For the home gardener, I mean.
The tomato forum blurb caught my eye ("the fancy heirloom ones" it says) In reality, the hybrids are the really fancy ones, with all of their scientific breeding for disease resistance etc. Are Great Northern Beans fancy? They are found in every supermarket in the US and were grown by the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes when Lewis and Clark passed through.
That got me wondering. It seems to me that the home garden declined, or changed from "food" growing to hobby growing during the time that all of the improved hybrids were being developed (post Victory Garden years, especially during the Yuppy and baby boomer migration to the suburbs in the last thirty years or so).
I have no doubt that the commercial growers need hybrids for both production, disease resistance, shipping, shelf life, etc. but for home gardeners who do not can and have not been growing on the land for generations (disease buildup), is there really enough of a problem to warrant the development of hybrids aimed at the home gardener? (Except for brussels sprouts I mean, since I can't get sprouts to form on the non hybrids.)
The first tomato I ever planted, I was scared into buying whatever had the most letters after its name (V,F,N,X,Y,Z). I was convinced by the packaging that the environment was toxic and I would fail without the maximum disease resistance possible. I wonder how many other people out there are/were the same way.
The pendulum has shifted back towards growing heirlooms because in part they are now being succesfully marketed/advertized after getting some good press by some snooty chefs and foodies some twenty years ago. The times are changing. I was walking around my smallish town a few days ago and found a llama herd near the middle of town. Of the farm people I went to school with, one now has a llama farm (independent of the small herd in the middle of town), and the one who lived across the road whose family were dairy farmers, got rid of the cows. So off the top of my head, in the middle of Ohio farm country with Amish buggys here and there, I know two places to go llama tipping, but no place to go cow tipping.
For vegetables, you can find the same company trying to sell you both, hybrid and heirlooms. It is self competition. ..."Grow Burpee's Superduper Sonic Ultra Flavor-Burst tomato, guranteed to withstand all the diseases that prevent home gardeners from ever getting a bite of other tomatoes. ... Grow Burpee's heirloom Comanche Purple Brandywhiner tomato for that superb old fashioned flavor not to be found in hybrids."
I have a feeling that the home gardner got swept along in the advertizing for varieties developed for market growers and were left with those varieties when farmers switched to newer varieties that now often just go by a number rather than a name.
On the one hand you hear stories of people keeping vegetable and livestock varieties going against modern trends so they can't be 'that bad', and on the other, advertizing tells us that we will fail without improved varieties.
So what do you think? Would your garden experience be significantly impacted if you were limited to the 'heirloom' varieties that your grandparents or great grandparents grew?