Lifestyle & Human Interest

A 92-Year-Old Gardener Has Been Growing Tomatoes from the Same Seedlings for 58 Years


Anyone who’s ever grown fresh tomatoes or been the recipient of a gardening friend’s tomato overabundance knows there’s nothing quite like a homegrown tomato.

Once you’ve tasted one, your appreciation for the anemic, wet cardboard-tasting offerings from the grocery store dissolves.

Many gardeners are nearly religious in their tomato choices, but few have as much determination and sheer history with the tomato as 92-year-old Sybil Gorby from Tyler County, West Virginia.

The gardening bug bit Gorby early on, when she helped with a neighbor’s garden when she was a teenager.

“I fell in love with it,” she told The Washington Post. “Once you plant a seed, you watch for it to grow and then you start envisioning what they’re going to taste like.”

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She loved the sense of accomplishment and pride that came along with successfully growing her own food, and she loved being able to share her work with others, too.

In 1963, she and her husband Bob moved to a 74-acre farm, where she has been ever since. Not only did she work as a nurse, but she worked the land, raised her children, and became known for her generosity with her harvest.

“We had everything in the garden,” Gorby said.

“She always had enough food and vegetables to feed the whole community,” her daughter, Sandy Marody, added. “We didn’t have a lot, but boy, did I feel like we were rich. … It was an amazing life.”

Her amazing tomatoes, though, have been decades in the making. In 1965, a friend gifted her some tomato plants that she claimed bore exceptional fruit — and the rest is history.

“I decided to save the seeds at the end of the season and planted them again at my house,” Gorby said. “They grew into such large tomatoes, and everybody liked them.”

The name of the particular strain of tomato has been lost to time, but that doesn’t seem to bother Gorby — or anyone who tries them, for that matter — because they are unparalleled in flavor and texture.

“They have a sweet taste,” Gorby said. “They’re the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever had.” And with over 90 years of experience, Gorby knows what she’s talking about.

“I don’t know what it is, but it’s like magic,” Marody said. “Those seeds just grow into these wonderful tomato plants.”

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In their heyday, the plants grew so tall that Bob (who’s been gone nearly two decades now) had to use a ladder to harvest the fruit.

Gorby credits her hobby with keeping her active and resilient.

“It keeps me moving,” she said. “You use all your muscles to pull and dig. Maybe that’s why I have been so strong.”

Gorby’s daughter has taken up the baton and is running with her mother’s legacy — though she admits that her tomatoes aren’t quite as good as her mom’s.

One thing that has been a constant for Gorby is that she’s never charged for anything from her garden. She’s given away produce, preserves and seeds to those in need or interested in trying to grow tomatoes themselves.

In fact, the thought of charging for her seeds makes her uneasy.

“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,” she explained.

Gorby always happily mailed off her seeds to anyone who requested them, but after her story went viral, it looks like that may need to change — or she’s going to have to find a way to grow a lot more of her famous tomatoes.

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