“Fiction” is a story that didn’t happen, but must be written as though it could have. This is especially true for historical fiction, and sometimes insuring the accuracy of one scene or even one sentence can take more time than it does to write the rest of the chapter in which that scene or sentence appears. All of which leads me to Victory Seeds of Molalla, Oregon and Mike Dunton.
I am working on the sequel to The Secret of Their Midnight Tears (I couldn’t just leave my characters in the middle of World War II!) and Tom Marsh decides to plant 10 acres worth of tomatoes for a local cannery that has just been built. I wondered, exactly what kind of varieties would have been grown for commercial canning in the Piedmont area of the Mid-Atlantic in 1943? Most of today’s hybrids were developed after World War II—that much I readily found out, but discovering which ones would have been planted during the war proved difficult. Then, in searching the Internet, I came upon Victory Seeds. The name held promise, but one look at the logo told me that whoever runs this outfit has a great deal of respect for the World War II generation. Therefore, I sent Victory Seeds an email containing my inquiry and received an immediate response from Mike Dunton, the owner, who was more than happy to answer my questions. Not only that, but he has continued to send information about which tomatoes might have been grown in 1943. As it turns out, a seed company in Norfolk offered “Tait’s Trucker’s Delight,” and T. W. Woods and Sons in Richmond offered several other varieties including “Bonnie Best”, all of which we now refer to as “heirlooms.”
What happened to tomato production as a result of World War II is fascinating. Mike wrote,
As you guessed, the WWII-era is of deep interest to me and yes, most definitely was an influence when I founded the company about twenty years ago. The end of the war ushered in the industrial age of commercial agriculture and along with adoption of using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, the seed companies that grew with this new era of ag began promoting the more profitable (for them) hybrid seeds. (As an aside, this corporate mentality is what influenced their decisions to develop and promote genetically engineered varieties some 25 years later.)
As with so much of our culture, World War II even had an effect on the breeding of tomatoes.
Mike also offered this concerning the Victory Gardens:
The “Victory Gardening” movement was equally important to the war effort. Home food production freed up agriculture for canning which fed the allied forces. Since canned foods were rationed items, nearly 20 million Americans gardened, producing up to 40% of all that was consumed during the war. Wood’s ‘Brimmer’ tomato, for example, was a popular variety as a fresh market / slicing variety.
Heretofore, I have always bought my 4-pack of tomatoes from a local store, and then stuck them in the garden without any thought, but next year, I intend to get seeds from Mike and, come summer, dine on the fresh taste of history.
I know many of you are gardeners and I strongly encourage you to visit www.victoryseeds.com Peruse this on-line catalog: You’ll enjoy it and you’ll learn something and you can contact me next spring so that those of us with small gardens can trade some seeds!
Thanks to Al Smith and Buffy Cooper who posted the first two reviews (and very nice ones!) for The Secret of Their Midnight Tears. Keep ‘em coming folks.