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16th Annual Heirloom Garden Show August 28th

On Sunday August 28th from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm Garfield Farm Museum will host the 16th annual Heirloom Garden Show that features historic varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and antique flowers. Gardeners from the Great Lakes region are invited to bring, display, offer for tasting or sell their favorite historic varieties.

When the first show was held in 1990, the concept of heirloom produce was known only within certain gardening circles. Today, hardly a week goes by that a food critic, TV chef or newspaper food section does not mention old type vegetables or fruits.

This is in large part because of the Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, IA that has endeavored to preserve the great genetic legacy of our gardening and farming ancestors. With Seed Savers, the Slow Food Movement, organic and sustainable farming interests, the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, and Garfield Farm Museum's show, today's consumer is better educated and desires more choice in the varieties of fresh produce. To portray an 1840s Illinois prairie farm, Garfield Farm must constantly research and find sources. Often finding mention of a particular variety grown in the 1840s is easier than finding the actual plant. The Seed Savers Exchange and the Center for Historic Plants have been instrumental in providing the sources for these old varieties.

For the most growers of these heirlooms, it is inevitably the taste that interests them. A good tasting fruit or vegetable may be centered on many other factors. Some tomatoes make better sauces, preserve better, last longer, be suited for a specific local climate or be more disease or insect resistant. Even appearance may enhance perceived taste as that finicky youngster may be more inspired to eat blue potatoes or purple carrots. This year's show will demonstrate which varieties handled the exceptionally dry conditions for the gardeners from Illinois. August is the peak month for tomatoes and they are also one of the favorites of gardeners and consumers. Joe and Denise Cimmarrusti of Elburn and Dr. Jerry Skurka of Oswego, IL both grow peppers, eggplants, beans and are the contenders for the most variety of tomatoes grown and brought to the show. The Cimmarrustis have had up to sixty varieties which vary in taste, texture, color, shape and size. Their surprise this year will be six bean varieties whose seeds were found in an old building that was being demolished. They hope to have them identified by show time.

John Swenson of Glenview, IL brings his peppers and tomatoes as well but no one out competes his collection of alliums- onions, garlics, shallots and leeks. Swenson is an expert on this group of plants and has done the historical research and international travel to prove it. As much as Swenson loves the hardy taste of a good garlic, James Doyle a.k.a. Jimmy's Chiles (Tinley Park, IL) likes it hot. With a variety of chile peppers, coriander and tomatoes, he also promises plenty of chile seeds, cheap! Hailing from Fairbury in Livingston County, Illinois and the Spence Farm, Kris and Marty Travis will have heirloom veggies, prairie seed, flower seed and chemical free flowers and their own honey. They not only grow all these things but they also use their farm as an educational center giving tours of the farm, woods and gardens.

Mary Burnitz of Lockport, IL will discuss home made wines at her booth and offer samples for tasting. Wines made from rhubarb or dandelions have been selections in previous years. Her friend Karen LaGoo of Belvidere will have samples of herbal teas and will display scented geraniums and various herbs.

Walkup Heritage Farm & Gardens of Crystal Lake, IL will offer heirloom tomatoes for tasting and will bring native prairie plants. Natural Gardens of St.Charles, IL is the original source for many private prairie restorations in the area as they specialize in perennial and ornamental plants. They have had a 20 year relation with the museum it is prairie restoration. Chad Leferber plans of Blue River, WI plans to add a new dimension to the show with grafted and seedling fruit trees and shrubs. Depending on the crop, he plans to bring berries, fruits and nuts along with native plants and evergreens.

The museum's newest relationship is with Erehwon Farm, a community supported gardens where shares are sold for a portion of the produce as it ripens through the season. Tim Fuller and Beth Propst rent several acres at the museum's Mongerson Farm and have a wide range of plants and vegetables grown chemically free and a number which are heirloom varieties. Bill Aldrich of Chicagoland Gardening will be on hand with information and advice. To add a decorative touch to the garden Jan Smith, a very knowledgeable gardener, will offer her bird baths and 'Step in Stones'. She will provide information on composting and organic gardening. Jackie Smith of Kalamazoo, MI promises to attend as she is very concerned with Biennial Seed Saving. These are crops that take two years to grow and produce seed. Cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli are declining in numbers of variety. She will speak on this topic and also have recipes for these crops available.

All this does not include the hard work of museum volunteers like Dale McMahon and Barb Siler who have fought the drought and weeds in tending the museum's Heirloom Vegetable Garden and the Antique Flower Garden grown specifically for the show. This year's flower garden is especially interesting as most of it was grown from seed collected from last year's garden. In many areas, seed from several years ago sprouted amongst the planted beds so several spider flowers and love in the mist might be amongst this year's bed of balsams. Over wintering the tubers of the 4 O'clocks have produce shrub sized plants that wait until late afternoon to open their red, white, or yellow blossoms for evening pollinators. Tours of this and the inn's kitchen garden and the prairie will also be offered. The focal point of the museum, the 1846 brick tavern will be open for tours as museum's volunteers share the unusual history of the site which once was filled with teamster and farmers hauling their wheat to the 1840s Chicago port.

Food and refreshments will be available from the Inglenook Pantry of Geneva, IL. The show is $6 for adults and $2 for children under 13 years of age. For information contact 630 584-8485 or email The museum is located 5 miles west of Geneva, IL off ILL Rt.38 on Garfield Road. This historically intact former 1840s Illinois prairie farmstead is being restored as an 1840s working farm museum by donors and volunteers from around the country.





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