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Rutgers 250 Schermerhorn Tomato (15 seeds) (WWE256) $4.00

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Rutgers 250 Schermerhorn Tomato

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This is a "new heirloom" released in 2016 by Rutgers University as an homage to the original 'Rutgers' tomato, the very definition of the "Jersey tomato" since the 1930s. The story actually begins at the Campbell's Soup Company in 1928. The Camden, NJ, company has long had an active plant breeding program, and in 1928 that someone working for Campbell's crossed a sour-tasting but disease-resistant tomato called 'J.T.D' (after John T. Dorrance, who thought up Campbell's condensed soups) with a sweet, popular, but disease-susceptible tomato called 'Marglobe.' Soon after, in collaboration with Campbell's, a Rutgers vegetable breeder named Lyman Schermerhorn began working with the results from that original cross. After years of selection he finally had a tomato worthy of the massive canning industry that taken root in southern New Jersey (including for the newly burgeoning tomato juice market), and in 1934 he released a new tomato which paired the best traits of both parents in a beautiful, bright red package. It was called 'Rutgers.' Schermorhorn’s original description upon its release was understated: "The flavor of the fruit is very pleasing and makes juice with a medium high percentage of sugar with low acidity which is just intermediate between the sweet Marglobe and the tart J.T.D. It is adapted for canning, market and home garden and is particularly suited for the manufacture of a fine flavored, highly colored juice." Little did Schermerhorn know, by 1952 'Rutgers' tomato plants would compose 72% of all tomato acreage in the United States, and while it soon fell out of favor as the vegetable industry moved to California (and mechanization necessitated sturdier tomatoes), it would remain the gold standard for home gardeners well into the 21st century. But success would ultimately bring its downfall: eventually there were so many versions of 'Rutgers' on the market that the name had more or less ceased to mean anything at all. Rutgers University no longer maintained the variety, so despite its seeming ubiquity, the actual 'Rutgers' tomato was lost in the muddle. Thankfully, less than a decade ago, some Rutgers scientists working on a research project with Campbell's learned that the company had temperature-controlled vault containing many of Campbell's historic seeds. Among them, it turned out, were viable old samples of J.T.D. and Marglobe. Soon the idea was hatched to attempt to re-breed the original 'Rutgers' tomato, ideally with all the taste and color of the original, plus added resistance to today's common pests and diseases. Rutgers scientists Jack Rabin, Peter Nitzsche, and Tom Orton went to work. In about the same time as it had taken Lyman Schermerhorn, they had three strains that all seemed to match the original descriptions. Consumer taste tests ultimately crowned one winner, and in celebration of the 250th anniversary, the new tomato was called 'Rutgers 250.” But in a surprise twist — largely due to the excitement in New Jersey over this new tomato's arrival and the anticipated shortage of seeds — the university decided to release the best two strains. One was simply called 'Rutgers 250', while the other (to be released after all of the 'Rutgers 250' seeds ran out) was called 'Rutgers 250 Schermerhorn.' Nate Kleinman and Dusty Hinz of the Experimental Farm Network got their hands on starts of both strains, and grew them out at the EFN flagship farm in Elmer, NJ, in the heart of former Campbell's country (today California grows nearly all of Campbell's tomatoes). Much to their surprise, in two consecutive years, the second-string tomato with the unwieldy name proved to be the better. Though it had the same bright color and the same plant vigor as the other, it produced tastier fruit, more of them, and — most glaringly and importantly — started producing weeks earlier. Today, due to the story of its origin capturing the public's imagination, the 'Rutgers 250' tomato is spreading around the country like its namesake once did. But to those in-the-know Garden State farmers, only one one of the new "Jersey tomatoes" truly lives up to its reputation. Lyman Schermerhorn, we salute you. Seeds grown ecologically in New Jersey by the Experimental Farm Network.

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