It takes a very special person to have a green thumb. It’s particularly impressive when said special person has the ability to keep up the same crops for years. Adorable 92-year-old Sybil Gorby has had a beautiful and bountiful garden since 1965. What’s more precious is that her heirloom tomato crop has come from the same family of seeds since the beginning.
Sybil Gorby has an undeniable green thumb. Growing up in Paden City, West Virginia, she helped look after her neighbor’s garden and just “fell in love with it.” “Once you plant a seed, you watch for it to grow and then you start envisioning what they’re going to taste like,” she said.
Heirloom Tomato Magic
After she grew up, Sybil and her late husband moved to a 74-acre farm together in 1963, on which he built them a home. Sybil’s pride and joy were the infinite lands, and options for her garden. On a beautiful spring day in 1965, the magic of the heirloom tomato plant began.
The garden once boasted an impressive 40 by 40 yards of colorful flowers, fresh fruits, and healthy vegetables. “We had everything in the garden.” Sybil, whose favorite way to eat the heirloom tomato is on a BLT with homemade bread. The heirloom tomato plants had grown so high that, on occasion, her husband would have to climb a ladder to yield the harvest.
Routinely Growing Heirloom Tomato Plants
Together with her husband, Sybil watched their four children and her garden grow. Sadly, Sybil’s husband passed away about 18 years ago. However, that hasn’t disrupted the 58-year routine this sweet grandma has perfected. Sybil took the seeds from the first heirloom tomato, replanted them the following year, and has done so every Spring since. By mid-August, the harvest is ripe and ready to be picked.
“I decided to save the seeds at the end of the season and planted them again at my house, they grew into such large tomatoes, and everybody liked them.” Sybil explained, adding that she was still unsure exactly what kind of tomato the plant was. However, they seem to most closely resemble the heirloom tomato.
In order to keep the same lineage of the crop, Sybil selects the largest tomato from that year’s harvest. Next, she digs the seeds out with a spoon and saves them in a paper towel. When Spring finally makes its way back, she plants them and tends to them until they’re ready for use.
Sharing with Her Community
The family farm located in Tyler County, West Virginia, is well-known among just over the 9,000-person community. According to one of her children, daughter Sandy, “She always had enough food and vegetables to feed the whole community.” further explaining, “She never sold it. She would give it away.” In addition to gifting fresh fruit and vegetables, she also makes soups, sauces, jams, and jelly. Although the community appreciates anything from this adorable 92-year-old’s garden, her most coveted crop is the heirloom tomato.
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An image of Sybil holding a prized heirloom tomato, clearly bigger than her hands and possibly bigger than her head too! The heirloom tomato was from last year’s harvest and went viral after Sandy posted it to a Facebook group called Appalachian Americans. Commenters had many kind things to say, mostly in awe and admiration. “This gives me inspiration to continue harvesting my heirloom seeds,” Someone commented. Another user said, “Beautiful lady and tomato looks so yummy,” Meanwhile many took note of the sweater Sybil wore in the picture, adorably matching her heirloom tomato.
It turns out that not all of her crops, even the tomatoes, always turn out this large. Nonetheless, they still seem to a popular topic. “They have a sweet taste. They’re the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever had.” She explained.
The proud and well-known gardener now has eight grandchildren with whom she shares the heirloom tomato and other crops and her knowledge. However, she credits the magic to a dear friend of hers. She met another avid gardener named Gay Soles, and Sybil’s life and garden, would never be the same. Gay offered her some tips and tricks a few years into her gardening venture, and it seems those were very helpful hints.
Her garden has diminished in size over the years and is now primarily growing on her back porch. It’s now much more manageable, and she can easily check on the garden, tending to its needs.
Sandy has now been gifted the tools and seeds to grow her own garden. She happily took over, stating, “I’m glad that she passed it on to me, and I’m able to raise a garden as well.” Sandy and her three siblings grew up eating and enjoying their mom’s crops from the family farm. “We didn’t have a lot, but boy, did I feel like we were rich. It was an amazing life.” She said.
Sharing Her Joy
Sandy also explained that she constantly gets messages from people on Facebook looking to buy the heirloom tomato seeds. “Everybody wanted to give me money for them, but if you give someone money for something that’s going to grow, it may not grow,” Sybil superstitiously explained. As a result, Sandy instead mailed envelopes with a few of the prized heirloom tomato seeds in hopes of sharing her mom’s love of gardening with others. “I hope that they can get the joy out of raising them that I do. It’s wonderful.” Sybil explained.
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- “92-year-old has grown tomatoes from the same seed lineage since 1965.” The Washington Post. Sydney Page. March 22, 2023.