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“Biodiversity starts in the distant past and it points toward the future.” —Frans Lanting
The seeds may have come with the family from Germany when they immigrated, or they might have come from a German-speaking seed merchant, but it’s Aunt Ruby who planted them year after year in her Tennessee garden—that’s the part everyone knows for sure.
So these spicy-sweet, verdant-hued tomatoes are called Aunt Ruby’s German Green.   They join other heirloom varieties with names tied to their origin stories, like Cherokee Purple and Brandywine, the fruit of seeds preserved in families and communities for 50 years or more. And with each replanting, they protect a critical element of our food supply: genetic biodiversity.
According to some reports, more than 90 percent of seed varieties have vanished in the last 80 years; for tomatoes, the reported number has dwindled from 408 to 79. And the disappearance of seeds underscores a silent threat to food security—the loss of genetic biodiversity on our farms and on our plates.  It’s the same scenario that led to the Irish potato famine and the more recent near extinction of bananas. 
Heirloom tomatoes, like other heirloom foods, safeguard genetic biodiversity in critical ways. They're open-pollinated, which means the seeds of their fruit can be replanted and they will reproduce the same flavorful harvest year after year, with the help of nature’s pollinators, including bees, wildlife, and wind. Not only does this perpetuate superior flavor, but it also strengthens the gene pool, as each new generation of plants possesses new genetic profiles, and over time can develop greater resilience to threats like climate change and disease.  Without natural reproduction and the consequent evolution of the gene pool, the species may weaken, losing adaptability, and with the commercial dependence on hybrids, the genetic diversity of food is also silently shrinking.  
Biodiversity is multi-layered, and protecting it depends not only on the genetic variation of plants but also on the microbial diversity of soil and the species richness of ecosystems. Organic farming techniques replace synthetic chemicals with practices that nurture biodiversity, including composting, crop rotation, and cover cropping. Consider the difference this makes in comparisons of biodiversity from organic to conventional farms:
Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, one of the most potent antioxidants among its class of phytonutrients, the carotenoids.   Here’s the fun part: Studies show that pairing tomatoes with fat helps convert the naturally occurring form of lycopene to its more bioavailable version.   In more appetizing words, caprese salad with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or tomatoes à la Provençale are recipes for culinary traditions rooted in health.
“Whether we consciously realize it or not…the biodiversity with which we have the most intimate historical, cultural and biological connections is that associated with food plants.” —Cary Fowler
May we eat for biodiversity, filling our plates with foods that not only preserve our stories for future generations, but also feeds them.
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