The ‘Ivan’ Tomato Rescue Project

Read how blogger Laura Flacks-Narrol saved this heirloom tomato cultivar from going extinct.

  • The 'Ivan' is a great choice for Missouri growers, as it seems to survive everything the local weather throws its way: flooding, drought, extreme heat, and even some cold.
    Photo by Kate Berneking-Kogut
  • Jordan Casey, Curtis Hess, and the author, Laura Flacks-Narrol, sport their ‘Ivan’ shirts while admiring the cultivar itself.
    Photo by Kate Berneking-Kogut
  • The family that originally sold the 'Ivan' tomato at their local farmers market, eventually donated greenhouses to help the 'Ivan' Tomato Rescue Project's mission.
    Photo by Laura Flacks-Narrol
  • The ‘Ivan’ has a very large yield and grows to nearly 8 feet tall.
    Photo by Kate Berneking-Kogut
  • The 'Ivan' tomato has a delicious, old-fashioned flavor and a deep, meaty structure that does well for fresh eating, canning, and cooking.
    Photo by Kate Berneking-Kogut
  • By the end of the first production year, the Ivan Tomato Rescue Project sold more than 800 live plants and saved more than enough seeds to preserve the cultivar's genetic diversity.
    Photo by Kate Berneking-Kogut
  • If you’re interested in supporting The Ivan Tomato Rescue Project, check out the Facebook page at Order some seeds or ‘Ivan’ gear at
    Photo by Kate Berneking-Kogut
  • Author Laura Flacks-Narrol is a regular Heirloom Gardener blogger. You can follow The ‘Ivan’ Tomato Rescue Project — along with Laura’s other gardening adventures — at Food Not Bought on
    Photo by Todd Narrol

Sometimes you face a moment in life when you have to decide whether you’re going to make a difference. I faced that moment as I held the last seeds of an heirloom tomato cultivar in my hands. I could’ve either used my seed-saving know-how to preserve a fantastic tomato or let it sink into obscurity. Herein begins my story, which has become intertwined with the story of the ‘Ivan’ tomato.

Finding ‘Ivan’

I’ve gardened for more than 20 years in my suburban Columbia, Missouri, backyard. I grow plants for food and also for the pure wondrous joy of watching life happen. Some years I’ve had better crops than others, yet each year I’ve tried to learn something that will improve my yield and my overall gardening experience. I also preserve the food I grow and try to keep a full pantry of what I call “Food Not Bought.”

After many years of growing tomatoes, I still hadn’t experienced the bumper crop of overflowing tomatoes that people talk about. I rotated beds and kept high levels of organic matter in the soil; I even tried all the vogue tomato cultivars that are supposed to be a sure thing. I tried heirlooms, and I even gave in and tried some hybrids. Yet tomato success remained an elusive dream that was always just out of reach.

One spring, as I was buying yet another new tomato cultivar, I told the well-meaning farmer about my tomato woes. She recommended that I try her family tomato, the ‘Ivan.’ It had been grown right here in Missouri by her family for generations, and she swore by it. I figured why not, and got one strong-looking ‘Ivan.’

For me, this tomato represents success in so many ways. I learned that it’s able to survive Missouri’s odd weather. (Over the course of one summer, we generally have flooding, drought, extreme heat, and some cold.) Yet the ‘Ivan’ seems to be OK with everything nature throws its way. Like most places, we have diseases that can take out a tomato plant in a flash, yet the ‘Ivan’ fights its way through most diseases while other plants perish and die. The ‘Ivan’ has a very large yield and grows to nearly 8 feet tall. This cultivar has a delicious, old-fashioned flavor and a deep, meaty structure that does well for fresh eating, canning, and cooking.

The ‘Ivan’ Tomato Rescue Project

The ‘Ivan’ Tomato Rescue Project was born eight years after I grew my first ‘Ivan.’ The family who I got the original seedling from went out of farming, and I found myself with the last seeds. Literally, these were the last seeds that I knew of. I searched online and found very little trace of the ‘Ivan.’ No one was selling seeds and no one had plants.



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