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"Among people that are on the hippie and idealistic end of farming - I tend to be over there too - there's always been this debate between hybrid and open pollinated because you can't grow out the hybrid," says organic farmer Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz.
"They want gene pool security, and the argument goes that you can't rely on these big companies for seeds." That's why Schirmer spent the past five years developing an alternative that he'll debut in farmers' markets in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Felton and Berkeley this summer, called, inevitably, the Dirty Girl.
Though he saves seeds for a few crops, such as beans, Schirmer says he buys most of his seeds because seed saving is time-consuming and unpredictable.
Still, he recognizes the demand for a Monsanto-free version of his popular tomatoes.
Monsanto is all about corporate control of our food supply," says Lehrer.
"We are not giving them a penny." He was impressed with the flavor of Schirmer's experimental tomatoes last season.
"They were off-the-charts great, like the best 'Early Girl's," says Lehrer.
Seminis, for one, is the world's largest producer of vegetable and fruit seeds.
If you plant them, they won't necessarily have characteristics of both parents, and usually turn out very odd. He collected seeds from some of his 'Early Girl' tomatoes, planted them and waited to see what happened. "You're growing it out and you get this incredible variation of the gene pool." But a select few had pleasing 'Early Girl' characteristics, such as its perky globe shape and pleasingly firm texture.
One plant was basically a leafless stem with a tomato growing on top like a speared doughnut. Schirmer collected seeds from those, then grew those out, and repeated the process for five seasons, keeping his experimental rows separate so they wouldn't cross-pollinate, until he got fairly consistent results.
Dirty Girl tomato plant seedlings grow in a green house Feb.
25, 2014 at Flatland Flower Farm in Sebastopol, Calif.
Later this month, Flatland Flower Farm in Sebastopol will begin selling starts of the Dirty Girl from its stand at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.