“Tomatoes today just don’t taste like they used to.”
Statements like that seem to be a common refrain from those old enough to remember when the source of most their fruits and vegetables was as close as their own backyard, or maybe as far as the farm down the road. And the sentiment is not without merit: Large-scale farming and hybrids bred for transport hundreds of miles away – not necessarily for flavor – have changed the way produce tastes.
Enter Mehmet Oztan.
Mehmet, along with a growing number of others across the country, is a seed saver, with a focus on the heirloom seeds that haven’t changed for generations. With heirloom seeds, he says, “You can grow the plants your grandparents grew.” Mehmet started growing food as a hobby, and last January his interest sprouted into a business, Two Seeds in a Pod.
Most of the seeds he cultivates are rare and carry significant cultural heritage, passed down through generations without a commercial source. “They are confined to local villages, neighborhoods or sometimes even a single person,” he explains. “We have to protect these varieties or they will get lost.”
Mehmet does this by documenting the life cycle of each seed he offers in his catalog, providing as much information as possible for origin, history and growing habits, such as fruit color and taste, as well as yield and days to maturity.
His interest is much greater than simply selling heirloom seeds, however. An engineer by trade – after growing up in Ankara, Turkey, he moved to the United States and received his PhD in civil engineering from Michigan State – he uses the profits from his business to fund a research project focused on creating an online database for the Turkish varieties he raises.
Mehmet grows on Pam Lunn’s land, next to her farm, the Dancing Goat. He sells his organic seeds and veggies (when he has them) at the Sweetwater Farm Sunday Market November through May and also makes the seeds available online.
Learn more about Mehmet and order heirloom seeds from his website at twoseedsinapod.com. You can also buy his produce Sundays at Sweetwater Organic Farm, 6942 West Comanche Avenue, Tampa, sweetwater-organic.org, 813-887-4066.