Mr. Ben T. Quisenberry (1887-1986)
The Gazette is honored to give its Hero Award posthumously to Mr. Ben T. Quisenberry, who died in 1986 at age 99. Mr. Quisenberry lived in and operated a tiny mail-order seed company called Big Tomato Gardens out of a small building that had been an old post office in Syracuse, Ohio. He printed his own seed packets, complete with mottoes, on an old printing press.
His passion was saving heirloom tomato varieties from extinction. Through his efforts, several tomato varieties, including Brandywine (his personal favorite), Golden Sunray, Czech’s Bush, Long Tom and Mortgage Lifter, survived the war on heirloom seeds waged by the large seed companies. (These can still be purchased from Seed Saver’s Exchange, whose current catalog contains a full page of Ben Quisenberry’s Tomatoes. Their address is below.)
In 1982, Mr. Quisenberry told an interviewer who asked the secret of his long, productive life:
Once a fellow from a television station asked me how I accounted for keeping active 95 years. I said to keep happy and to keep content, do something that’s worthwhile. If you have a hobby and you can make your hobby your business, you’re all the better off. Do something good…..l do marvel at myself sometimes, the way I keep going. Indeed I do. I marvel at myself. I’m surprised sometimes how I can keep going from 7 o’clock until dark. About dark, I’m like the chickens. I hunt for my roost. …..Aging in rural America, the elderly man is very fortunate if he is in a rural district. Out in Nature. Out where he can work. Out where he can fasten his hands onto the end of a hoe handle and make things grow. He’s with nature, and when he’s with nature, he’s close to God. God is nature and nature is God. So you’re in good company when you are out in a rural district.
For more information about Mr. Quisenberry’s heroic efforts in the cause of saving several varieties of seeds from extinction, and for an overview of the seed problem that has now grown critical, see the previous Gazette article “My Secret Life As A Farmer.”
To buy Mr. Quisenberry’s seeds, and to learn more about a truly outstanding organization, please contact:
Seed Savers Exchange
3076 North Winn Road
Decorah, IA 52101
(Note: The photo Mr. Quisenberry is from the 1999 issue of The Seed Savers Exchange Catalog.)