“We found six different lost or unknown varieties in 2021”, starts Agathe Lang, the URGC representative. URGC has set up a research program in conjunction with conservatories in the region.”A team of 'living treasure hunters' is being put together specifically to search for lost or forgotten seeds”, she states. A variety has to be made secure once found. “We have batches of varieties which we propagate regularly at several locations to ensure their preservation”, she emphasizes. Work on the description of varieties – morphology, characteristics – is carried out with a view to listing them in the official catalog and acquiring market authorization.
URGC is working with a team of 25 experimental market gardeners spread across the Centre-Val de Loire region to assess the potential of these heirloom varieties. “They receive small quantities of our seeds (500 g of Michou beans, for example) cultivate them and send us feedback on the production, harvest, sales and consumption. We use this to assess whether these varieties are destined for market gardening for general consumption, fine dining, processing or simply gardeners”, she states.
URGC has, for example, been involved in re-cultivating the Berry sucrine. “This is 'farm-saved seed' which caught the eye and the seed companies decided to propagate it. The aim of the association for the past twenty years is to give a second life to forgotten vegetable varieties”, she emphasizes.
In partnership with the Thousand heirloom varieties conservatory (conservatoire Mille variétés anciennes) based at Millançay, market gardeners test three varieties a year. “This year I am testing Michou beans, Orléans radish and Olivet curly endive1”, explains Sophie Bediou who is one of the experimental producers. We have to fill in a road map: establishment date, conditions and growing scheme implemented. Sometimes, even the taste of the produce is unknown. We have to produce detailed, precise data sheets.” Sophie Bediou had tested the Aubigny swede which failed as it was ravaged by flea beetles. Last year she planted Tours purple celery. She left it in the plot as this is a bi-annual plant.
(1) Olivet curly endive and Orléans radish are local varieties from the Centre-Val de Loire region. Michou beans are so-called “collector’s” seeds.