FARGO — It’s as much about giving as it is about saving.
When Jack Wood co-founded the Tomato Seed Savers Club a year ago, which aims to educate Cass and Clay county residents about heirloom varieties of tomatoes, as well as save their seeds, he wanted it to be about sharing the bounty as much as preserving the fruit’s rich heritage.
“I recently retired from Scheels after working at the corporate level for 45 years,” Wood said. “It is so great to wake each day to do whatever I want to.”
What he wanted was to give back to his community.
The club has planted 110 varieties in a plot located at 3811 20th Ave. S., one of the Growing Together community gardens, of which Wood is co-founder and president. The near quarter-acre consists of groupings of four tomatoes spaced 90 inches apart. Between these plants are 88 mini gardens that will support the Heart-N-Soul Community Cafe, a local nonprofit which has a pay-what-you-can model. It exists as a series of pop-up cafes in various area locations, all volunteer-based, right down to the guest chefs.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” Wood said.
Wood, an affable and energetic man, is one of the driving forces behind the collective effort, but he doesn’t like to take the credit. That’s because, in his view, it’s the dozen or so members — they started with five in January, but the number keeps growing — who make the garden truly flourish. And it seems to be getting bigger by the minute.
“We’re haggling for space,” he said.
Dan Goehring, the TSSC co-founder whose grin is as wide as the brim on his sun hat, is the other driving force. He’s been heirloom tomato growing for a long time. It accounts for that ever-present smile.
“In the 1980s, in Oklahoma, my retired neighbor was growing two each of 100 varieties with a change of 10% each year,” Goehring said. “She got me started with 50 varieties. Later, when I moved to Maine, I got up to 100 varieties. Now, I live on a small lot in south Moorhead and my spouse watches me like a hawk, trying to keep my planting under control. This year I got away with 50 varieties, of which 29 are cherry tomatoes that are being tested in pots and bags, and nine are seeds I brought from Italy, Berlin or Croatia.”
It hasn't always been easy.
“I have lost my planning history twice — hard drive crashes — so I am backing up all records on my new cherry tomatoes,” he said.
Still, one of the benefits of belonging to TSSC is meeting people like Goehring, who has a true passion for heirloom tomatoes, their varied oral histories, flavors and appearances. He brings with him tropical farming practices he learned while living in American Samoa.
“My spouse is so glad that I have connected with Jack,” Goehring said. “She doesn’t share my excitement in the seeds that I labor over, but she does love tomatoes.”
Plenty of others do share his passion, though.
Like Randy Bach, who co-operates Legacy Gardens, a North Moorhead-based small farming operation that grows produce naturally without chemicals. They donate generously to various organizations.
“I grew up on a potato [and] grain farm and have been a gardener all my life,” Bach said, “and still grow many heirloom tomatoes, including many that my father grew in the 1960s and quite a few NDSU varieties. In all, we grow almost 50 varieties of tomatoes, and while we seed save in many other of our vegetable varieties, I have frankly not done much in tomato seed saving, so am very anxious to interact with those who do.”
Why community gardening in the time of COVID-19?
“Because unlike the office,” Bach said, “it doesn’t talk back and it always gives back.”
He’s also a board member of Heart-N-Soul Community Cafe, making him just one of the paths that led Leola Daul, its founder and executive director, into the garden.
“We’re committed to addressing food insecurities, building communities, and providing delicious food to nurture body, heart and soul,” Daul said.
Everyone is welcome, Daul said, and there are no prices on the menus. Some pay a suggested amount, others “pay it forward” by helping a neighbor in need.
“Some of our guests, we give them an opportunity to volunteer with us,” she said.
The importance of sharing a meal, one of the tenets of their mission, has become challenging during the time of the coronavirus. Recently, the pop-up cafes with guest chefs, a hallmark of the organization, has given over to distributing sack lunches.
“With COVID-19, I don’t think we’re going to be having any pop-ups for a while,” Daul said. “So, our hope is to be able to preserve some of the food so we can use it throughout the winter.”
Daul said they use local, fresh food whenever possible, so it was a blessing when TSSC reached out to them and asked to donate crops, including green beans, onions, broccoli, basil, squash, carrots, beans, even dill for pickling and preserving.
“We’re pretty excited,” she said.
Wood said their first crops for Heart-N-Soul will likely be ready by August 1.
“Definitely the zucchini will be ready,” Wood said. “We should have a few peppers. We’ll have cucumbers. Then it’ll be just boom, boom, boom. The biggest harvest in the garden will be from August 15 through the end of September.”
They’re even growing flowers for the cafe tables.
“You name it, we have it,” he said.
Well, not peas or corn. Peas are an early crop, and corn is too overpowering in the garden, but Wood will be happy to explain that to anyone willing to listen.
To join TSSC, email Wood at email@example.com
On the WEB:
Heart-N-Soul Community Cafe: www.facebook.com/HeartnSoulCommunityCafe/