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Heirloom and Specialty Vegetable Production for Local Sales-2002 Report

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This is a 2002 report from a NC Specialty Crops Program Project. It is posted for historical reference purposes.

Reviewed by Jeanine Davis, NC Alternative Crops & Organics Program, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University on 10/10/2022.

PROJECT LEADER(S): Jeanine Davis, Dept. of Horticultural Science, NCSU
LOCATION: Mountain Research Station – Waynesville, NC


Growing interest in specialty crops and locally grown produce offers profitable alternative markets for farmers in western NC. A demonstration garden was established in Haywood County to explore consumer preferences for these items. Test marketing and surveys revealed a strong demand for local produce, particularly heirloom tomatoes.


This project was actually initiated by the staff of the Mountain Research Station. They were looking for produce that could be grown AND sold in Haywood County. We worked closely together to establish a large demonstration garden containing a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes, colored bell peppers, hot peppers, gourds, old-fashioned pumpkins, and broom corn. This garden was highly visible from the road and made available for inspection by all interested parties. Produce from the garden was used for marketing studies. For example, peppers and tomatoes were test marketed at the Waynesville Tailgate Market on several Saturday mornings. Customers were surveyed as they shopped. In addition, we took notes on consumer buying preferences. Before the day was over, Jeanine Davis took results of the day’s research to all the produce vendors on the market. A tomato and pepper taste test was conducted at the WNC Farmers’ Market in Asheville.


A large number of consumers participated in the taste test and a strong preference for heirloom tomatoes was demonstrated. Discussions with the retail vendors on the market revealed that demand for heirloom tomatoes far exceeds supply. They encourage local growers to sell these tomatoes to vendors on the market because they cannot get them through their regular suppliers because the heirloom tomatoes are too fragile to ship. A field day was held to educate growers on the tremendous number of unique and old-timey varieties available to them.

This study demonstrated that there is a strong local market for locally grown produce, especially heirloom tomatoes. Several Haywood County growers will take advantage of this information in 2003. In addition, we will conduct a heirloom tomato variety trial in 2003 to assist with variety selection.


Haywood County Specialty Crops Survey for 2002

What is most important to you when you shop for produce?
81% Locally Grown
37% Quality
8.6% Price

Which of the items displayed here are you most likely to by?
71% Heirloom Tomatoes
23.6% Jalapeno Peppers
5.3% Thai Dragon Pepper
22% Ivory Bell Pepper
34% Yellow Bell Pepper
6% Chocolate Pepper
16% Hybrid Tomatoes
7% Long Cayenne Pepper
15% California Wonder Pepper
29% Lilac Pepper
12% Valencia Bell Pepper

Have you bought specialty fruits or vegetables in the past?
72.6% Yes
27% No

Please share your age range
1.6% 21-30 yrs
2.6% 31-40 yrs
17.3% 41-50 yrs
27.3% 51-60 yrs
28.6% 61-70 yrs
22.6% 71-80 yrs

Size of household
12.6% One person
67.0% Two
11.0% Three
9.0% Four or more

What fruit or vegetables do you want to buy from farmers but can’t find?

Blue Lake Beans
Snap Sweet Peas
Zucchini Squash
Fresh Asparagus
Fresh Broccoli
Sweet Potatoes
Organic Grown Greens
Yellow Cherries
Fresh Cantaloupe
Green Mountain Potatoes
Horse Radish
Swiss Chard
N.C. Peaches
June Apples
Egg Plant
White Corn Meal
Cow Peas

Source of data: 100 surveys were collected from WNC Farmers Market, Waynesville Tailgate Market and Ingles


participants at test market

Test marketing on Saturday morning at the Waynesville Tailgate Market.

participants doing heirloom tomato and pepper taste test

Taste test for heirloom tomatoes and peppers at the WNC Farmers’ Market.

participants at heirloom and specialty vegetable field day

Field day for heirloom and specialty vegetables for Haywood County.