Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NC TOMATO MAN, CRAIG LEHOULLIER

On July 25, 2012, my life changed forever.  WRAL did a piece about "the NC tomato man", who named the tomato, Cheroke Purple. A tomato my husband and I have been growing regularly for five years now. We just love it.

I decided to track down this local legend to see if he would teach a class for Durham Parks and Recreation on his passion: gardening.  He graciously said yes, even with his incredibly busy schedule.

Craig doesn't garden like some people. He gardens primarily to save seed.  He gardens to make sure that our future generations have a their own heirlooms.

In 1986 he discovered Seed Savers Exchange which started his obsession for tomatoes.  As a child he didn't like tomatoes at all, but says, " it was my grandfather who provided the critical factor. I was probably 12 years old or so when he convinced me to take the plunge, and it was love at first bite!"

But his love for gardening really started when he was six years old when his grandfather would walk him through his garden behind his home to show him his, "wonderful dahlias, zinnias, and sweet peas, and shared with me the most delicious strawberries".

Craig also credits his father by saying, "My dad planted a backyard garden, and walked with me through a local park to look at the gardens - I remember being amazed at watching his morning glories and portulaca open each morning (and yes, I popped his unopened Hosta blossoms!)".

Fast forward again to 1986 when Craig discovered Seed Savers Exchange. He told me that the thing that really hooked him into saving seeds was, "the array of colors and flavors, the interesting histories, and ability to save and share seeds, my gardening world was rocked forever".

He goes on to say, "Through the years, I've moved from collecting and trying as many varieties as I can get my hands on, to buying old seed catalogs and going hunting for varieties that were grown by people in the US from the mid 1800s to early 1900s (and then finding many of them and growing them myself!), to discovering or developing new, non-hybrid, great varieties that will hopefully be heirlooms, in the eyes of our grandchildren and great grandchildren."

One of Craigs biggest projects that he "created and continues to lead is a world wide, all volunteer effort to develop great new dwarf growing tomatoes that are perfect for five gallon containers, thus bringing the possibility of wonderful home-grown tomatoes to those who are space-challenged."

There are a two ways to meet this incredible gentleman:

1) Raleigh Farmers Market where he will be selling this tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings

2) OUR PROGRAMS!!!!
Februrary 2nd from 10am-12pm:  Tomatoes: Diversity, History and Flavor   


If you would like to register for these programs, just click on the name.  For more information or questions call or email:
919-471-1623, option 2 or jessica.leff@durhamnc.gov

Craig, thanks for all the work you do and in joining us this season as we explore different ways to garden.  We look forward to learning from you!

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