This past Tuesday, May 15, marked the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Department of Agriculture act into law. Lincoln would soon after refer to the USDA as “The People’s Department,” recognizing the importance of providing a solid agricultural foundation for our quickly developing country. Now, a century and a half later as the USDA celebrates this significant milestone year, Lincoln himself is being recognized for his contributions and vision in creating such an agency.
This spring, the USDA gifted special seed packets to all member projects of their People’s Garden Initiative (named for the Lincoln’s description of the Department.) Each packet contained 10 heirloom “Abraham Lincoln” tomato seeds, with the idea of paying homage to the strong history of community gardening in America while offering tribute to this influential leader. Each of the 1,630 registered People’s Gardens across the nation and around the world have been asked to plant these tomatoes, then track and share their progress using social media throughout the growing season. This will not only provide a connection to our agricultural heritage, but foster a sense of unity in the common mission shared throughout the entire People’s Garden network.
Abraham Lincoln tomatoes are a fascinating strain. Developed and first introduced in 1923 by W.H. Buckbee Seed Company of Rockford, Illinois, the fruit was named for that state’s greatest son. Marketed as “The Giant of All Tomatoes,” Abraham Lincoln’s were touted as “beautiful dark red attractive fruits, heavy, sweet, solid and meaty…” It was boasted that mature tomatoes averaged a pound in weight, though three-pound whoppers were not uncommon. Despite their size, the tomatoes were said to be “remarkably smooth and free from cracks and seams.” Seeds were sold in packets of 100 with a catalog price listed at twenty cents a pack.
Though Abraham Lincoln tomatoes entered the gardening world with limited acclaim, the variety quietly gained a reputation as a dependable favorite, even surviving the shift to hybrid strains that became prevalent in the 1940’s. Now, nearly 90 years after it was first introduced, Abraham Lincoln tomatoes are a true garden classic with strong roots anchored deep in our horticultural past.
At Hardacre Community Garden, we’re very excited to join in this global celebration and to be growing Abraham Lincoln heirloom tomatoes this summer. Our seeds were started by local students in the Tipton High School grow chamber, and a few plants were put in the ground last week by volunteers Mike Boyle and Josh Meier in celebration of the USDA’s 150th anniversary.
In conjunction with this commemoration, we will have signs posted in the garden marking our special Abraham Lincoln plants. We eagerly invite all of our friends to seek them out when visiting the site, and to check and see how the plants are progressing. We will also be taking part in the USDA based online campaign, sharing photos and updates of our tomato growing efforts with fellow gardeners near and far. Facebook, Twitter, and this blog will be our primary means of purveying this information, and you can find links to our social media accounts in the column to the right.
The USDA People’s Garden website can be viewed by clicking HERE, and contains further details on both the initiative and Abraham Lincoln Tomatoes.
Of course the greatest reward of this special project, like everything we do, is knowing that the work put into growing these tomatoes will eventually pay off in providing healthy, local food for neighbors in our community. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to share in such blessings, and we’re always happy to accept an extra hand from those willing to help. If you live in the Tipton area and would like to get involved, please feel free to stop out at the garden on any weekday evening, when you can generally find someone playing in the dirt. Otherwise, contact Josh by leaving a message in the comment section below, or on our Hardacre Community Garden Facebook page at www.facebook.com/hardacregarden for further information.
Thanks for your support, and for your ongoing interest in Hardacre Community Garden. We’d love to see you out at the farm- and we’re fairly certain that Honest Abe would approve as well!
Above: Hardacre Community Garden volunteers Mike Boyle and Josh Meier plant tomatoes in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the USDA. May 15, 2012.