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 in Quebec want people to bite into something better.

Gardiens de semences take their case for local produce to Montreal's YUL Eat festival

Félix-Étienne Trépanier, left, and Thibault Renouf are co-founders of both Seed Guardians and Arrivage. The organizations aim to promote local, rare seed varieties. (Submitted by Arrivage)

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.

Gardiens de semences, or Seed Guardians, are presenting their exhibition 100% Tomatoes at the 6th edition of the annual foodie festival, YUL Eat. (Submitted by Thibault Renouf)

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 tomatoes 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 surprises in the produce aisle soon.

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

About the Author

Amanda Klang


Amanda Klang is a producer at CBC Montreal.


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