Heirloom crops are cultivars of edible plants grown and maintained by local gardeners and farmers over many generations. They were commonly grown during earlier, pre-industrial periods in human history, and are not used in modern large-scale agriculture.
There are over 60 different heirloom varieties grown in Tsuruoka, comprising vegetables, fruit, and grain, all of which have been carefully cultivated by the locals. Farmers select these precious crops for flavour, hardiness, and productivity, passing them down from one generation to the next. These crops are valuable biological and cultural resources: in addition to preserving genetic diversity — a trait lost in modern, large-scale agricultural practices —they also help preserve traditional cultivation and culinary techniques.
Living Cultural Asset
Some of Tsuruoka's heirloom crops also have foreign origins – after being brought in by external travellers, they were carefully acclimatised to their new environment over time, eventually becoming key elements in various dishes unique to the region. It is thus said that these crops are living cultural assets.