My obsession with Mennonite tomatoes

I admit it, I have a slight obsession with Mennonite tomatoes.

It started one day 2 years ago at the Peaceful Valley Organic Farm Supply store in Grass Valley, CA. While I was waiting for my order of various farm supplies to be filled I perused the seed racks and found the Old German Tomato, a Mennonite heirloom. Being 1/4 Mennonite and having a Mennonite middle name (Fretz), I didn’t want to spend any more money than I already had that day, so I didn’t buy the seeds. Anyway, they were described as (if you read between the lines) kind’a ugly and low yielding.

I stopped at my parents house in Sacramento on the way back to Modesto and told my mother, who was brought up Mennonite and Lutheran in Pennsylvania, that I had seen Mennonite tomato seeds. Her expression of approval changed to disappointment when I said I didn’t buy them. “YOU DIDN’T BUY THEM?” Coming from her, any admonition to spend money was to be taken very seriously, so I went straight to the computer and ordered the seeds online.

I planted the seeds and tended the plants. (In fact, that spring I was offered an apprenticeship on another farm, and one factor in my turning the offer down was that I didn’t want to leave my Old German seedlings behind.) When the plants produced, the tomatoes were a bit ugly and low yielding, just as the packet said. But they were also huge, yummy, and Mennonite.

When I bought the seeds, I’d never knowingly eaten a specifically “Mennonite” tomato, and had no basis to judge it’s adaptability to California. Growing unproven seed from across the country doesn’t really seem like something a practical Mennonite farmer would do.  In fact, it seems pretty silly.

But here’s the thing. Say the phrase “Scots-Irish” and nothing really comes to my mind (sorry Dad’s ancestors) . The words pecan, alligator, broiler chickens, soybeans, or cotton, may remind me of my wonderful relatives in Georgia who grow those things… but they really don’t make me want to put an alligator in the pond.

“Mennonite” on the other hand, contains an entire ideal world in a single word. It’s the thought of a simple farm life and close community amid green hills and streams, and a sense of pride in their hard work, faith, and general way of life. Way out here in California, on a sunny day off, it’s easy to idealize a far away time and place. But having that ideal isn’t a bad thing; in fact it’s good to be reminded of ideals sometimes, even if they aren’t ever fully realized. Plus, “Mennonite” tomatoes come with an interesting cultural history, are a good example of heirlooms, and remind me to make funny cake or shoo fly pie once in a while.

So I’m happy to announce that this year’s Old German Mennonite heirloom tomatoes are busy sprouting in the greenhouse. They are there along with the better producing, more beautiful, disease resistant, standard varieties and other heirlooms. Though I will probably never rely on heirlooms, I will probably always have something “Mennnonite.” After all, who wouldn’t want to munch on a giant tomato and dream about a perfect life?


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7 Responses to My obsession with Mennonite tomatoes

  1. Phil says:

    Anna, what a beautiful article!

    • upliftfarm says:

      Thanks Phil! I talked to my Dad last night and he said he thought I was over idealizing Mennonite farmers. I mean, maybe just a LITTLE … 🙂

      • Phil says:

        I’m no expert on Mennonite lore, but they did cherish their farmland and had a love for nature. I think you have made your ancestors very, very proud!

  2. Barbara Showalter says:

    That was a great article. Where can I order those seeds online?

    • upliftfarm says:

      Hi Barbie! It took me a minute to figure out who you were with that last name! You can get the “old german” and “tiffen mennonite” seeds at, but its a bit late to be planting tomato seeds for this year. I will just have to bring you some tomatoes. Too bad you are not closer or I could give you some of my extra plants!

  3. Olen Showalter says:

    That was a very nice article young lady and being part Mennonite myself I really enjoyed the article and didnt find it overidealizing at all . Your Mom ,as I , was very proud of her mennonite heritage and I was quite pleased when I found that we had that in common ,we are in fact actually related along those lines . My grandmothers favorite Tomatoe was the Mennonite and I enjoy many fond memories of sitting in her garden with a salt shaker and facefull of tomatoe juice . Please send us the web address of where you got them as well as some info on that mobile chicken coop I’ve been hearing about I’m intrigued

    • upliftfarm says:

      Hi Olen! Thanks for the comment!!!! I am so glad you are a proud mennonite motorcyclist. I just made a funny cake the other day — its a pennsylvania dutch recipe from the mennonite community cookbook. It would go well with one of your coffee drinks. carries the old german and tiffen mennonite tomatoes, but its pretty much too late to plant tomato seeds now. I hope you guys have fun at your new house though this summer!

      The thing I have my chickens in is a “chicken tractor” Basically its a wooden A-frame wrapped in chicken wire, with nest boxes attached to the back, and a perch inside for roosting. If you google “chicken tractor” you’ll get a lot of designs.

      I have two and I prefer the one that is smaller and lighter. I tried making one out of pvc though and it was too light, and neighborhood dogs got in.

      Have fun!

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