By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
TomatoFest Heirloom Tomato Seeds was founded in 1991 by Gary Ibsen. In the process Ibsen helped revitalize heirloom tomatoes’ popularity.
Ibsen’s belief in sustainable, organic farming, seed saving, sharing seeds, and the stories of seeds’ cultural histories have inspired him to grow heirloom tomato varieties for more than 30 years. At his farms, he and his partner Dagma Lacey grow more than 600 varieties of certified organic, heirloom tomatoes from seeds originally sourced from family farms around the world.
TomatoFest focuses on sustaining heirloom tomato seed varieties so they may remain a vital and available food source for generations to come. The family-run company works to find what are considered to be the most favored heirloom tomato varieties from many different regions and family farms. Then Ibsen and Lacey grow and harvests these tomato seeds, save tomato seeds in its seed bank, and share them with other gardeners around the world.
In 2008, Ibsen retired from 18 years of producing the nationally celebrated Carmel TomatoFest event in Carmel, CA in order to focus on the seed business. Each year, the company donates heirloom tomato seeds to more than 250 non-profit, urban garden projects, school gardens, and community outreach gardens around the U.S., India, Africa, Europe, and China through its Seed Donation Program.
TomatoFest maintains its catalog solely online. Each tomato listing includes a description and color photograph. Varieties are listed in categories for easy browsing. A paper catalog, says the company, is contrary to the company’s efforts to conserve natural resources. A printed catalog is available on demand as a PDF, in which varieties are listed alphabetically.
All TomatoFest heirloom tomato seeds are CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certified organic, open-pollinated, non-genetically modified varieties. Seeds are selected from heirloom tomato varieties from around the world. They are grown on certified organic land (rich river-bed, sandy loam soil), fertilized with organic minerals, and watered with the company’s own specially formulated organic compost tea.
The TomatoFest website maintains multiple seed categories, including:
Fans rave about the seed selection (600+ varieties) and the company’s service. Problems with orders are addressed personally. Many customers receive handwritten notes with their orders.
The company works to turn around orders in two business days. The small, family-run company not only respects gardeners’ feedback but relies on it too. Each seed pack is stamped with a lot number for tracking. When Ibsen discovers a germination problem with a variety or lot number, seeds are removed from stock until new testing is complete or new seed is harvested.
Most seed packs contain 30 seeds. The company claims a 90% or above germination rate based on their own greenhouse testing. They offer a customer satisfaction guarantee. Customers who have germination problems with seeds can notify the company within 45 days and their order will be replaced. A replacement guarantee is reassuring. On the other hand, the time frame is short. Even if seeds are replaced, then it can be difficult to restart the process and get plants in the ground during the current season.
TomatoFest requires a $15.00 minimum order.
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