It's one thing to research and develop heritage crops like apples and tomatoes; it's another to spread the news about their benefits and get people interested. A free book seems to be the answer. Midweek spoke with Mark Christensen of Heritage Food Crops Research Trust and Janet Mace, author and artist.
Mark is well-known for his work with the Monty's Surprise apple.
He has given away hundreds of these apple trees, enabling them to be planted and grown in gardens in Wanganui and beyond.
Then there is the heritage tomato, in particular, Olga's Round Golden Chicken Egg. Aside from its unusual name, its health benefits are manifold.
"All of the tomatoes we grew last year we sent to Plant and Food for chemical analysis," says Mark. He and his colleagues have been doing that for nine years, and the tomatoes' analyses have revealed some interesting levels of two types of lycopene, a substance particularly beneficial for men's health.
There is the lycopene that exists in the modern red tomato, all-trans lycopene. It requires cooking to activate its goodness and enable absorption by the human body. Then there is tetra-cis lycopene, high concentrations of which are found in such heritage tomatoes as Olga's Round Golden Chicken Egg.
Studies in the US have found that this form of lycopene is much more efficiently absorbed, says Mark. "They recognise that if you have better absorption you'll have greater health benefits."
Researchers also found that the "orange" form of lycopene does not need cooking for the body to absorb.
Last October Mark mentioned to Murray Jones of TreeLife Organic Nursery in Papaiti that he'd like to get children interested in planting and growing the heritage tomatoes. Murray suggested writing a children's book.
"He planted the seed of an idea," says Mark, using a metaphor with which he is familiar. Fiona McGowan, one of the "Monday volunteers" at Mark's five acre research property in Springvale, suggested artist and illustrator Janet.
Jessica and the Golden Orb is the result.
Written and illustrated by Janet (writing as Janet Bradbury), it is the tale of a young girl who, not permitted to keep a pet, gets a heritage tomato plant instead.
"The story goes through how to plant one and how to look after it, so it's a mix of fiction and non-fiction", says Janet. "Jessica finds that she can talk to the tomato plant and it can talk back to her." That way she finds out that the yellow fruit it produces are supposed to be that colour, not red as a neighbour suggests. The book comes with a packet of seeds adhered to the back inside cover and the whole package - book and seeds - is free.
"This is the work of all the volunteers who have grown the tomatoes and collected the seeds," says Janet.
The first print run produced 2250 books, into which went 22,500 seeds.
To be able to give them away, the books have been sponsored by the Powerco Wanganui Trust and the Wanganui Community Foundation.
The book is available at Joy and Frank Bristol's stall at the River Traders' Market, Paige's Book Gallery in Guyton St, the Whanganui Environment Base at the Resource Recovery Centre in Maria Pl Extension and Natasha Huntley at the Wisdom is Yours Healing Space at 208 Victoria Ave has copies.
On November 7 at the River Traders Market, tomato plants will be given away, along with copies of the book.
"Joy Bristol is growing 4500 plants for us to give away.
"This is our partnership with the Whanganui Regional Health Network," says Mark.
"It's amazing what comes out of the science. You've got to have an open mind for whatever's coming next.
"It's fascinating."