Flavourless grocery store tomatoes have heirloom seed advocates seeing red

Watery, flavourless tomatoes with a nice shine and shelf life are standard in our grocery stores, but a growing network of farmers and foodies want people to bite into something better

A Montreal-based company called Gardiens de semences, or Seed Guardians, is trying to spread the message this weekend in Montreal's Quartier des Spectacles.

The company will present 100 local kinds of heirloom tomatoes at its 100% Tomato exhibition at the YUL Eat festival.

"We want to show that there is much more than tasteless standardized food to put on the market," said Thibault Renouf, co-founder of Seed Guardians.

He said seed biodiversity is being lost and once it's gone, it will never come back.

A growing network

The group helps create networks of growers, grocery stores and restaurants to buy into the idea of heirloom fruits and vegetables.

Several grocery stores in Montreal, including Rachelle Béry Beaubien and IGA Duchemin, as well as smaller outlets in Rimouski and Alma are already on board. Nearly 100 restaurants are also using Seed Guardian's heirloom seeds.

Submitted by Arrivage

At YUL Eat, the team hopes to expand that network and raise awareness about the importance of seed biodiversity.

Félix-Étienne Trépanier, another founder of Seed Guardians, said mass-produced tomatos were "patented around properties made for industrial productions, shelf conservation and appearance." 

But, he added, "we forgot taste, pleasure, and sustainability in the equation."

Team effort

For Renouf, selling individuals on the value of using local, heirloom seeds is only the beginning.

"We have to create interest and distribution channels," said Renouf.

First, seed savers identify heritage seeds to be revived, then a chef or grocer agrees to buy the crop and, after that, farmers must agree to cultivate them.

The goal of Seed Guardians, Renouf said, is to help create those channels, so farmers don't plant unfamiliar varieties of produce they can't sell.

Instead, with their crop sale guaranteed, farmers can raise Quebec heirloom vegetables with names like purple Amarosa potatoes, Jaune Flamme tomatoes or carrot bomb peppers. And consumers can discover them. 

The organization is still young — it was founded in 2018 — but it hopes events like YUL Eat can help ensure Montrealers see more surprised in the produce aisle soon.

Seed Guardians is taking part in the until 8 p.m. on Sept. 15 in the Parterre section of the YUL Eat festival.