Ana Inciardi, right, is a local artist who made a print of a tomato and then learned about a rare tomato variety that had a long history in her own family. Her fiance, Addison Wagner, left, works at Whatley Farm in Topsham. The farm is now in its second season of growing the Inciardi Paste Tomato. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A farmer in Ohio mailed the 24 seeds to the apartment where Anastasia Inciardi and Addison Wagner live on Portland’s Munjoy Hill. But their journey was actually much longer, beginning more than 120 years ago across an ocean and in a hidden pocket sewn into Enrico Inciardi’s clothes. When the young couple opened the envelope, they became part of a family tradition that has been preserved against the odds.

They looked at the seeds and saw cosmic significance.

“This is just like validation that what we’re doing with our lives is exactly what we should be doing,” said Inciardi, 26.

Inciardi is a printmaker with a niche focus on food. Wagner works on Whatley Farm in Topsham. The seeds were from the Inciardi Paste Tomato, and Enrico Inciardi was her great-great uncle. There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes in the world, and it’s hard to know exactly how many people are growing this one in their home gardens or on their farms. (In 2014, the estimate was a dozen.) Among them now is Whatley Farm in Topsham, where Wagner works. Inciardi and Wagner are also collaborating on a project that could spread the seeds and their story even farther.

“I mostly hope that people actually try and grow it and see for themselves,” said Wagner, 27.

Caleb Goossen is an organic crop and conservation specialist at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. He isn’t familiar with the Inciardi Paste Tomato, but he said crop diversity is important to farmers for number of reasons. Planting multiple varieties of tomatoes, for example, helps reduce risk that the entire crop will die from the same cause. Breeders often look to older varieties to figure out how to respond to new diseases. And certain varieties just have familial or cultural significance to their growers.


“This is the same look, feel, flavor that your family has eaten for generations,” Goossen said. “The only real way to preserve that is to continue to grow it, and were everybody to stop growing this variety or that variety, it can be eventually lost to humanity.”


Inciardi is originally from Brooklyn, and Wagner grew up in Colorado. Now engaged, they met while studying art at Kenyon College in Ohio and moved to Portland in 2020.

All of Inciardi’s prints depict food and kitchen items: an olive, a cabbage, a jar of maraschino cherries, a pint of blueberries, a camp mug. She is drawn to these subjects in part because her family has always connected around food. Her great-grandmother even wrote a cookbook of Sicilian recipes.

“My family is Italian-American and is really, really obsessed with eating, not only Italian food,” she said. “That’s the main topic of conversation, not just with my parents and my sister and I, but when I call my grandparents, it’s like, ‘What are you having for dinner? Do you have weekend plans? Where are you going to eat?'”

Artist Ana Inciardi holds a block of linoleum after making a print of a tomato from it on a press in her Portland studio. Inciardi had been making food-related print art for a few years when she learned about a rare tomato variety with long ties to her own family. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Her best-selling print is an heirloom tomato, first made in 2021. Soon after, Inciardi was testing out her website’s searchability by Googling her last name. When she typed “Inciardi baguette” into the search bar, her business was the top hit. When she typed “Inciardi tomato,” it was not. Instead, she found a list of articles about the Inciardi Paste Tomato.


This rare variety shared her relatively uncommon family name but was completely unknown to her.

“I immediately sent the links I found from, like, Food 52 and Slow Food Foundation to all my relatives on both sides, and I was like, ‘Do you know what this is?'” she said. “No one knew. No one had any idea what this was.”

Henry Inciardi with his second wife, Jennie, around 1920, in a photo given to Vicki Nowicki by his relatives. Courtesy of Vicki Nowicki

Inciardi dove into research and learned about Enrico Inciardi. None of her relatives recognized the name, but she used to connect with far-flung Inciardis and confirm that he was her great-great uncle. She found articles that said that he came from Sicily to Ellis Island around 1900. Like many immigrants at this time, he and his family brought seeds with them from their homeland. Enrico Inciardi was afraid they would be confiscated when he entered his new country, so he protected them in a hidden pocket in this clothes.

Once in the United States, he started going by the name Henry and settled in Chicago. In 1915, he was married and working for Western Electric. That year, his employer organized an outing for workers on the Chicago River that turned deadly when the steamer Eastland overturned at the port with more than 2,500 passengers on board. Henry Inciardi survived, but his wife did not. He later remarried and had children. Throughout his life, he grew the tomato in his backyard and also passed the seeds on to his family.


The Inciardi family has Vicki Nowicki to thank for her part in preserving this family history.


Nowicki is a prolific gardener who lives in a Chicago suburb called Downers Grove. In the 1980s, she was visiting a friend’s garden when the neighbor walked over with “this gigantic, beautiful tomato.” It was John Inciardi, the son of Henry Inciardi.

“He reached out and grabbed my hand, and he put this tomato in my hand,” said Nowicki, 77.

John Inciardi in an undated photo given to Vicki Nowicki by his relatives. Courtesy of Vicki Nowicki

John Inciardi told her about his family’s tomato and how he had preserved the seeds over the years. His father taught him to squeeze the seeds out of the tomato and let them dry on a paper towel in the garage. (Nowicki later learned the more scientific and precise methods for saving seeds, which involve storing them in water for multiple days, and felt amazed at the Inciardi luck over the years with their own unorthodox process.)

“It was a catalyst,” she said. “It just got me so interested, especially because I had met the man whose family it was, and he told me he had never grown any other tomato. This was their go-to plant, and they made pizza with it and chili sauce and all kinds of stuff.”

That day was their only meeting. John Inciardi died in 2010 at the age of 92. But Nowicki started growing the tomato. She attended a course at the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity about seed saving and became more invested in the burgeoning movement to preserve heirloom vegetables. In 2012, she attended a conference in Italy that inspired her to create a seed library in her own community to bring back the traditional practices of exchanging seeds. The Downers Grove Legacy Seed Library was born in 2014 and now has 250 members.

Nowicki describes herself as “a crusader for heirloom vegetables” and is passionate about the potential impact of seed saving and open pollination to combat the effects of climate change. She hopes that more people grow food for themselves and exchange seeds instead of relying on industrial farms and large seed companies.


“It would be great if everybody could collect a little collection of heirloom seeds that they had saved themselves and get out of this corporation thing,” she said.

Nowicki and her husband are both garden designers, and they grow 52 varieties of tomatoes in their urban home garden. The Inciardi Paste Tomato, she said, is “the centerpiece.” She has been growing the plants for more than 40 years and has connected with members of the Inciardi family across the country to learn more about their history. She sees this tomato as a testament to the robust vegetables and functional cooking of the poor immigrants who settled in her area decades ago. It is fleshy and firm, and its small seed pockets hold less water than other varieties. Those qualities make it a perfect base for sauce (Nowicki’s husband made 40 containers last year that they pulled out of the freezer all winter long for pasta and chili).

“This was a working tomato,” she said. “It’s so useful.”

Addison Wagner, who works at Whatley Farm in Topsham, holds a cluster of Inciardi Paste Tomatoes. Wagner’s fiance, Ana Inciardi, is a local artist who made a print of a tomato and then learned about this rare tomato variety that has a long history in her own family. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Inciardi read everything she could find about her family’s namesake tomato. She connected with Nowicki and with Inciardis in other parts of the country who she hadn’t known existed. And she found the farmer in Ohio who grows the tomato and sent her two packets of the seeds.

Wagner brought them to Whatley Farm in Topsham, where she has worked since she moved to Maine. As an art student, she had looked for ways to bring her interest in the environment into her art. After her freshman year of college, she got a summer job on a farm for the first time. When she graduated, she decided to pursue agriculture as a career.


“Art and farming, for me, have a lot of overlapping qualities,” Wagner said. “It’s very hands-on, obviously. It’s satisfying for me because you get to see the fruits of your labor in a really clear way. There’s something very tangible about the work that you’re doing.”

The team at Whatley Farm was supportive of the experiment. They grew 15 plants last summer and harvested their first Inciardi Paste Tomatoes. This year, Whatley Farm is growing roughly 50 plants and plans to share the story and the tomato with customers at the farmers market.

“I think it is essential that people grow and save seed from true heirlooms like the Inciardi tomato, in order to have control over their food supply and to secure the genetics for the future,” Ben Whatley, the farm’s owner, wrote in an email.

Artist Ana Inciardi carves a tomato in a piece of linoleum in her Portland studio. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In 2022, Inciardi and Wagner used the tomatoes to make sauce, and they hope to cook more with them this summer. They also cooked up a project.

They applied for and received a $5,000 grant from the American Rescue Plan Act Maine Project through Space in Portland. For the last year, they have been working on an artist book that tells the story of the Inciardi Paste Tomato, as well as a larger story about the importance of crop diversity and seed saving. They’ve interviewed people in Maine and elsewhere about their own family seeds and their experiences in this area, and the final product will be illustrated with linocut prints and sketches.

Kelsey Halliday Johnson is the executive director at Space, which administers the grant. She said the independent jury unanimously supported the funding for the Inciardi Tomato Project. The project felt like “this perfect nexus” of family legacy, food and art, she said. It was also one of a number of projects that related to the food economy in Maine.


“Maine is so well known for its food, whether it’s what we produce and fish or the general food scene,” she said. “There are so many artists who are food workers and farm workers who bring that 360-degree view of the world that people are operating and working in. … Artists are using their platform at storytellers to talk about these very basic cultural traditions that really bring people together.”

Inciardi and Wagner said the experience has validated both their chosen careers – growing food and making art about it. They hope to make 100 copies of their short book. In the back, they plan to sow the seeds of the Inciardi Paste Tomato to share it with others and see where else it will go.

“Everyone will have a seed,” Inciardi said.

A page from the cookbook by Jennie Sacco, who was Anastasia Inciardi’s great-grandmother. Courtesy of Anastasia Inciardi

Marinara Tomato Sauce
Serves 6

This recipe comes from Jennie Sacco, who was Anastasia Inciardi’s great-grandmother, though not on the Inciardi side. Sacco was born in Brooklyn in 1914, and her parents had been born in Messina, Italy. She compiled a cookbook of family recipes, including this sauce. The recipe calls for a large can of tomatoes, but Addison Wagner suggested using 15 Inciardi Paste Tomatoes instead.

3/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 large can tomatoes (put through a sieve)
4 sprigs parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil (or 1/4 cup chopped fresh)
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
1 lb. spaghetti or linguine

In a medium-sized sauce pan, add the olive oil and garlic. Sauté the garlic on a low flame until soft, not brown. Add the strained tomatoes, parsley, basil oregano, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer about 45 minutes until the sauce thickens and the olive oil comes to the surface. When it’s finished cooking, set aside.

Now cook the spaghetti or linguine according to package directions. Add the sauce and favorite cheese. Serve hot. The sauce may be prepared ahead of time.

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