Heirloom tomatoes: What a history

heirloom tomatoes

Don’t ya know, Minnesota can grow tomatoes!

Heirloom tomatoes are a farmers market staple around the country, but Jeff Nistler, owner of Nistler Farms and a vendor at the Mill City Farmers Market, is perfecting the crop for Minnesota’s cold climate.

Jeff has constructed several high-tunnel greenhouses over the years at his farm in Maple Plain in order to extend the growing season for his melons and tomatoes.

This year, with help from the Mill City Farmers Market’s Farmer Grants, Jeff is experimenting with tomato grafts to combat common fungal diseases that affect his crop. The results of the labor are clear, as Nistler Farms has some of the best looking and tasting tomatoes in town.

The farmer grants from the market’s charitable fund can be used to help local, sustainable farms in times of hardship or with projects like organic certification, infrastructure advances, on-farm research and more.

The main difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes is how they are produced.

Typically, hybrid tomatoes are intentionally cross-pollinated so that the new plant will contain the desirable traits from both parent plants, whereas heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated by insects and the wind, not humans. Heirloom tomatoes have their own unique benefits, and places like Nistler Farms are working to preserve these varieties and their qualities.

So, why choose heirloom tomatoes?

First, heirloom tomatoes come from a seed that is required to be at least 50 years old. Talk about history! If the seed is not that old, it must be associated with a specific region or place.

Second, the nutrition and flavor of heirloom tomatoes is incomparable with hybrid tomatoes. One medium-sized heirloom tomato contains about 20 percent of your recommended intake of vitamin A and 40 percent of your recommended intake of vitamin C. Heirloom tomatoes also contain a greater percentage of lycopene, which is a carotenoid that aids in the prevention of cancer.

Heirloom tomatoes from Nistler Farms are available 8 a.m.–1 p.m. every Saturday at the Mill City Farmers Market and at the new Mill City Night Market, opening July 18 at The Commons. Find dozens of prepared food vendors, farmers and artisans 3:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. every Tuesday until the end of September at this new market, located in the green space next to the U.S. Bank Stadium.

For more information, visit millcityfarmersmarket.org.

Chilled tomato soup with cucumber and basil

By market chef Heather Hartman


1 medium red or white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
3 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (you can also use fresh lemon juice)
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cucumbers peeled and remove seeds if needed. Cut into very small dice.
Fresh basil, sliced into ribbons


Place onions in a small bowl and add cold water to cover. Let rest for 5 minutes, then drain.

Place the tomatoes, onion, carrot, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt or vinegar if needed.

Set in refrigerator to chill for 1 hour to allow flavors to combine.

To serve, place soup in chilled bowls and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, diced cucumbers and basil.

Serves 6