By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
When I was an Agriculture Science Educator I had the great honor of growing tomato seeds that had been sent up with the Space Station.
What a great honor and experience it was for my students and myself.
No one really knew what being in a weightless environment would do as far as tomato plants and their fruit.
But my students and I were about to journey into uncharted gardening plots with our Space Station tomato seeds.
The experience and experiment that took place with students that cannot even see the stars was indescribable and one I will never forget. The project was not just testing tomatoes and the effects of weightlessness but also the ability of individuals to contribute to science and their future. My program was not the only program that explored growing tomatoes sent into space but was just one of many that were scattered across the nation.
The results were just as diverse as the students that grew them and a lot of excellent information was learned from these tests. The next year basil was sent up and tested by students in middle and high school. The horticulture industry then got into the space ship and set up African violet seeds. Company greenhouses then germinated these seeds and the plants were sold. Again individuals could purchase and become involved in the science of weightlessness and seeds.
But the science has not stopped there even though the space program is coming to a close. Plant manipulation is an ongoing science that tests everything from gene splicing to extended shelf life of fresh produce. Through my search for unique tomatoes I came across two that took me by surprise and a nagging question as to why.
The first one that I came across was a beautiful white tomato that was supposedly acid-free. While this is great for those who have acid reflux I still question fooling around with Mother Nature’s design. But the weirdest tomato I found was one that was an eggplant purple color. While it was stunning sitting on a backdrop of green lettuce I wondered where the color came from and why anyone would not favor the scarlet red of an August tomato.
To my surprise and wonderment I found my answer in a simple bedding plant. The snapdragon was the answer and again I ask myself why. It seems the answer at least on the surface is anthocyanin. This antioxidant pigment increases the health benefits of a tomato while turning it a stunning eggplant purple. So this beautiful purple tomato has normal parents with a splash of snapdragon DNA thrown in for color and health…MMM.
While my science background questions human actions of manipulation and my husband marvels at numerous culinary delights that can be created from these unique tomatoes, he is a professional chef, I wonder again why and what price we will pay. I marvel from all aspects of my life the red globes of wonder that I enjoy right out of my garden and can never conceive anything purer than that experience.
So this year think about the purity of your gardening experience when planning the tomato garden for next year. Can we as a society live without purple or white tomatoes to preserve the founding fathers of our crops or has “Top Designer” gone from clothing design to organisms without a thought.
So until we blog again, May the natural world bring you pleasure through its many wonders.