Photos courtesy of Michael Vyskocil

Heirloom Plants Star at Horn Farm Center Sale

Story by Michael Vyskocil for YRK Magazine

When we think of heirlooms, jewelry, china and antiques often come to mind. The plant kingdom has its heirlooms, too, and at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education, you’ll get to discover — or rediscover — the beauty of heirloom plants at the farm’s Heirloom Plant Sale, Saturday, May 5, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Browse more than 10,000 plants among 300 varieties of flowers, herbs and vegetables for sale. All plants sold are ready to transplant in your garden or into containers. And take this tip from the insiders: You better arrive early if you want the best selection.

The Big Deal About Heirloom Plants

The term heirloom means that a particular plant has been passed down from generation to generation by way of its seeds. If you grow an heirloom plant cultivated from seed from its parent plant, it’ll maintain the original characteristics of its parents. That’s not the case with hybrids.

What makes heirloom plants special is the uniqueness of their characteristics. Heirloom tomatoes, for example, tend to have more flavor than hybrids. At the Heirloom Plant Sale, you’ll find heirloom tomatoes with variety names ranging from ‘Black Prince’ and ‘Hillbilly’ to ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘Mountain Princess.’

“People come looking for particular plants that are non-GMO, grown using organic methods, and some people have a family history with a particular plant,” says Alyson Earl, executive director of the Horn Farm Center.”

Among the heirloom varieties that Alyson likes are the ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Pineapple’ and ‘Speckled Roman’ tomato varieties as well as ‘Joe’s Long Cayenne’ hot pepper and calendula, an heirloom flower she uses in infused oil for a homemade skin care treatment.

Preserving Agricultural Heirlooms of York County

The Horn Farm Center is like an heirloom unto itself in York County and Hellam Township. With a rich history dating back to the 1700s, the Horn Farm today preserves agricultural traditions by connecting food, soil and people. As a leader in regenerative agriculture, the Horn Farm Center models holistic land management practices surrounding not only the food we eat, but also their ecological and economic benefits.

Throughout the year, the Horn Farm Center invites the community to join a class or workshop, grow their own flowers and vegetables in community garden plots, learn the art of beekeeping and get assistance on new farm businesses with an innovative farm business training program.

This program, the Incubator Farm Project, gives the next generation of aspiring farmers the knowledge and skills to successfully operate their own profitable small farm businesses.

“It was born in 2009, and we’re one of the oldest farm incubators in the country, of which there about 300 total now,” Alyson says. The Incubator Farm Project is a three- to five-year program in which participants get involved in the work of creating a small-scale, sustainable farm operation and developing a market for their products. At the end of the project, participants must present a plan for cultivating their own agricultural operation, and the Horn Farm Center works with them to help them find available farmland in York County and the surrounding area.

Why York?

Although its 186 acres of land occupies only a small part of Pennsylvania’s 46,000 square miles of land, the Horn Farm Center is a place that holds significance in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. According to Alyson, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission have been in discussions with the Horn Farm on projects such as agroforestry and restoration of ecological habitats and wildlife corridors.

Each day, Alyson says, she commutes from the city — the City of Lancaster — to the country to come to work, and she couldn’t be more appreciative of her role in caring for this piece of York County.

“To me, York County is a place of spectacular beauty … the land has such a personality to it,” she says. “I took this job three years ago, and working here at the Horn Farm inspires me to want to do something to protect the land and make it beautiful. I had someone who once commented to me about the Horn Farm, ‘When I see what you’re doing here, it gives me hope.’”


Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education

4945 Horn Rd.

York, PA 17406


Find them on Facebook


03 May