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Navitas Organics Blog

Ask the Chef: What is the Difference Between Heirloom and Organic?

Posted by Julie Morris, Navitas Organics Executive Chef on Jun 28, 2016 4:24:34 AM


What's the difference between heirloom and organic?

You'll often hear the words “heirloom†and “organic†used interchangeably when talking about high-quality produce. You're not alone in questioning the titles - there's a lot of confusion out there as to what heirloom and organic really are, as well as what sets them apart!

Heirloom plants are grown from seeds that have been handed down for generations, usually in a particular region, and specially selected by farmers for having specific beneficial traits (like a nice color, size, or hardiness). In this way, new farmers in the family “inherit†successful seeds and continue to pass them on to future family farmers.

Although they are not certified (guaranteed or backed) by the USDA, Heirloom vegetable seeds are not hybrids or genetically modified in any way. Agricultural experts define heirloom plants in different ways; however, there are a few characteristics that often describe heirloom:
• Open-pollinated by insects and wind without human intervention
• Often grown from seeds at least 50 years old
• Maintain specific traits from one year to the next

Now let's look at organic. Organic vegetable seeds are grown in eco-friendly environments that do not use artificial pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals in the agricultural process. One of the most important things about an organic designation is that organic standards guarantee that the crop has not been genetically modified (GMO). However, organic plants can potentially be hybrids (more on this in a moment) if they have been cross-pollinated with other varieties within the same species to maximize the best plant traits. Here are some of the characteristics of organic plants and seeds:

• Certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
• Adhere to growing guidelines that include no chemicals whatsoever
• Can grow from conventional seeds or heirloom seeds as long as no chemicals are used

On a side note, one of the many great things about Navitas Naturals is that the entire line of superfoods is 100% organic - meaning it is also 100% non-GMO!
Lastly, there's a third category of plants that belongs in this discussion too, and that's hybrid plants. Hybrid vegetables are created when farmers cross-pollinate two varieties of the same species of plant with the goal of producing offspring with the best traits of both parent plants, like texture or disease resistance. These are a few common characteristics about hybrid plants.

• Pollination is controlled by farmers to develop the desired characteristics
• Developing a desirable hybrid often takes many years
• Many vegetables you find at supermarkets are hybrids

(Hybrids are not considered GMO's either, as the cross pollination that takes place is a natural process, not one that involves genetic manipulation.)

In summary, some heirloom produce is organic, and all should technically be non-GMO. Some hybrid produce is organic, and all should technically non-GMO. Some organic produce is considered to be an heirloom or hybrid, and ALL organic produce is definitively NON-GMO. Hope this helps clear up a few questions next time you're shopping in the grocery store or at the farmer's market!

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