How Do We Define Virginia Food Heritage?

Food heritage celebrates the connection between the food we eat, the land it comes from, and the people who produce it. The Virginia Food Heritage Project saves our food heritage by connecting you with stories about foods that have been or are currently grown, processed, prepared, exchanged, sold, or consumed in Virginia.

Have a favorite old recipe? Please share it!

Have a favorite historic apple? Please tell us about it!

Are you growing heritage crops? We’ll add you to our map!

Are you raising heritage breeds or making special cheeses? We want you on our map!

Our commitment to preserving our cultural heritage includes a commitment to:

  • supporting our farmers;
  • supporting our seed savers;
  • supporting our chefs and food artisans;
  • supporting education about our food heritage;
  • supporting those trying to preserve and grow our food heritage;
  • combining the best of the past and the present.

Virginia Hams Virginia Cookery Past and Present

A Few Food Definitions

Heirloom vegetables are cultivars (cultivated varieties) that meet three criteria:

  1. They are older than 1945 (dates vary, but I like this one because it allows us to capture the Victory Garden varieties).
  2. They are open-pollinated (meaning they come true from saved seed).
  3. They have an established provenance through families, regions, and more rarely through now-defunct seed companies or university breeding programs (like the Rutgers tomato).

Heritage vegetables are pretty much the same thing as heirlooms, with the added condition that the breeds have ethnic or cultural significance–like Romano beans in Italy or Fish pepper for African Americans in the Chesapeake region.

In the U.S., it’s more common to use heritage to refer to animal breeds. When the term is applied, it indicates:

  • Unique genetic traits
  • Bred to withstand disease
  • Adapted to environmental conditions

Most heritage breed associations also include requirements such as these:

  • Recognized as breed since at least 1925 (dates vary)
  • Endangered or rare
  • Living on pasturage, rather than raised in “industrial” conditions

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