The Story of Sasha's Altai Tomato

Written by Bill McDorman

Written by Bill McDorman

In August, 1989, I was in Irkutsk, Siberia looking for seeds, especially tomato seeds. Hank Bernbaum, our translator introduced us to a dear Siberian friend of his, Sasha. With bright face and kind eyes, Sasha proclaimed he knew where to find seeds to the best tomato in all of Siberia. He asked us if we wanted some seeds. He told us he was more than happy to go get some for us.

Three days later we were preparing to leave Irkutsk by airplane. I asked Hank about Sasha, about the tomato seeds. Hank replied: “Sasha didn't explain something to you. He lives 35 kilometers by foot in the Altai Mountains. After he promised you the seeds he walked home which probably took him all day. My guess is he rested yesterday and will walk back to Irkutsk today. Let's see. An 8 hour walk. He should be here any time now.”

Sure enough, Sasha's bright face emerged from the crowd wishing us good-bye. He carefully handed a small wrapped newspaper package containing the seeds for his treasure. We named the tomato “Sasha's Altai” and offered it to the western world for the first time in our 1990 catalog. It has been one our of best selling tomatoes every year. Sasha's Altai was selected by Organic Garden Magazine as one of the 10 best early tomatoes in the world. Other seed companies now offer the original Sasha's Altai under various names including Sasha's Pride. Thanks to Sasha, thousands of North American gardeners now have the opportunity to experience the earliness and award-winning flavor of the remarkable tomato.

In September, 1993 while walking home at night after visiting Hank in Irkutsk, Sasha was severely beaten and robbed. After numerous surgeries to save a badly damaged pancreas, Sasha remained weak for the next 2 years. We responded in 1995 with a story about Sasha in our catalog. Hundreds of American gardeners sent money to help Sasha with medical bills and personal needs. Organic Gardening Magazine picked up the story and spread it to more than a million gardeners. In November 1995 we were happy to report that we were able to send Sasha more than 1,000,000 rubles, enough to care for his family for more than a year. The last we heard, Sasha was up and working and living a somewhat normal life. Our dream is to return to Irkutsk someday to let Sasha know how famous he really is.

About a year later, we received an email order for Sasha's Altai Tomatoes from Tanzania, Africa. The kind gentleman ordering the seeds emailed us a copy of an ad he had seen, apparently from a company in Australia. The ad was selling “The World's Best Tomato” - Sasha's Altai for $5.00 USD per seed!


Alisha Wenger