Tomatoes. They are complicated. Varieties, planning for, disease management, transporting, selling…There’s a lot going on.
It’s Janet typing here today, so I’ll own up that these are my thoughts today.
Tomatoes are important to us, because people tend to love to eat them. They are versatile, preserve well, and appear in the culinary culture of many groups. As a small commercial vegetable grower/market gardener, tomatoes tend to be an important crop for us, representing the potential for a significant percentage of our sales. We want to support our family through this business for many years to come, and so we pretty much need to grow tomatoes, and grow them well. Plus – they are delicious. Unless they are terrible. That is where it gets interesting. A great tasting tomato is a superb experience for an eater. A mealy, cardboard-like, or even just tasteless tomato is a disappointment. Obviously. And we hear from numerous people every year that they are sick of tasting bad tomatoes. We empathize. And we think our tomatoes are delicious.
However, the very most height of deliciousness for tomatoes usually comes from heirlooms. Funky shapes, funky colors, and very easily bruised or over-ripened. Fabulous flavor, but difficult to grow and difficult to transport. One of our most respected farming mentors says that heirloom tomatoes are meant to travel no further than from your backyard to your kitchen table. They are the least disease resistant of all tomatoes, and present compounded difficulties when one attempts to grow them on a larger scale (as in to then sell). Our first year in business we planted all heirloom tomato varieties. One may recall that our first year (2011) we then sold precisely zero tomatoes. They all died. The reasons are many, and we are better tomato growers now, but the point is we have to be smart about our situation and our role. We are much more suited to selling you heirloom tomato plants than the heirloom tomatoes themselves. We have to choose varieties of tomatoes that taste really good and also can be grown with realistic amounts of management using organic practices on our scale (1,400 tomato plants this year).
Last week at market, I had a couple of gentlemen checking out the tomatoes on our market table. They were expressing their disappointment with local tomatoes of late, stating they just couldn’t find a good tasting tomato any more. Even the Hanover tomatoes these days tasted no good, they said. I pointed out to them (as we do many people) that a Hanover tomato is simply a tomato of any variety grown in the county of Hanover and therefore brings no special promises of taste or quality (in our humble opinion) and that we think our Chesterfield Tomatoes are quite wonderful.
I also gave them a condensed version of the points above, stating that we know the very best tasting tomatoes are quite disease prone and not ideal for commercial sale and that we therefore aim for a balance of great tasting tomatoes that can be grown for sale and also grow well under the organic management that we use. Here’s where it got story-worthy: One gentleman was very certain that our tomatoes were not the taste he was looking for, and seemed convinced that we had sacrificed taste for organic management. He told me he didn’t care about organic farming, and didn’t care if it took spraying the tomato plants with poison to get a good tasting tomato – he just wanted a good tasting tomato!
Now, there are all sorts of issues in this statement.
I gently told this fellow that we cared greatly about the process that it took to raise a tomato, and that I was simply not okay with myself, family members, or farm crew workers spraying poison in pursuit of a decent tomato. I was also not okay with my children living on a farm that used this type of practice, nor was I okay with selling to our customers any tomatoes that were grown in this way. Nor did I believe that spraying poison was actually required to get a good tasting tomato, but that almost seemed beside the point at the moment. And, plus, he wasn’t listening to me anyway. He wandered off, disappointed with the market selection. I feel for him, and perhaps all I can wish him is good gardening, but I wanted him to stick around long enough for me to also tell him that we have had some customers admit to us this season that they have strayed from our booth and purchased tomatoes elsewhere (likely cheaper), only to return to ours because of flavor and quality. I can’t speak to how tomatoes around here (from Hanover or elsewhere) tasted 50 years ago. I am sensitive to that reality. But I know our reality, as a small, diversified, Certified Naturally Grown family farm working to provide high-quality vegetables for our community and support our family in the process. I know our standards and priorities and where we have to make compromises. We don’t buy into the false logic that poisons are required (or preferred?) for production of tomatoes that will make us and our customers happy. Thanks for being in agreement with us.
Enjoy this cool, July morning, and we look forward to providing you with some delicious veggies this weekend. We’ve got loads of great tomatoes. (And many thanks to the students of the St. Christopher’s Summer Institute on Leadership – pictured throughout – that joined us for a day of sweat and learning this week. We loved having you here!)
Special prices on bulk tomatoes for CSA members: $20 for a 10 pound flat. Reserve yours online or choose at our farm stand or market booth. (Farm stand, pictured above, remains open daily, except on Saturdays until 2 pm, while our veggies are at market.)
Certified Naturally Grown Farm In Search of:
::Paper grocery bags (for packing our orders in)
This Week’s Harvest:
Our Farm Share Bag (consisting of a farmers’ choice medley of produce, in one easy to order option), Beets, Carrots, Cucumbers, (Sun)Flowers, Green Beans, Kale, Okra, Onions, Peppers (green bell, jalapeno, and Sweet Lunchbox), Salad Mix (a bit!), Scallions, Summer Squash, Tomatoes (slicing, salad, yellow, and cherry) …plus our Pepper Jelly, and our Naturally Leavened, Hearth Baked Bread.
Janet (and Dan and the rest of the Broadfork Crew, by proxy)
Recipe Suggestions: (always cataloged on our Recipe Page)
Shrimp, Kale, & Quinoa Salad
Recipes for Canning Tomatoes: Herbed Tomatoes, Crushed Tomatoes, Italian Style Tomato Sauce, Fresh Salsa
Stuffed Sweet Peppers (sub protein of your choice)
Zippy Cucumber Salad
Summer Squash Fries (oven baked)
We continue at two farmers’ markets this Saturday: South of the James in Forest Hill Park, from 8am – 12pm, and the Brandermill Green Market in Market Square from 9am – 12pm. You may also purchase our produce and bread through Richmond’s online farmers’ market: Fall Line Farms or stop by our Self Serve Farm Stand. Details here.
2014 Market Share CSA Members: Choose your selection through our Online Ordering to order for pick up on Saturday at our farm, at the Brandermill Green Market , or at the South of the James Market in Forest Hill Park from.
Everyone else: Please sign up for our 2014 CSA and get first priority for the wonderful vegetables that we grow.
VABF Richmond Farm Tour
Richmond Biological Farm Tour Weekend: September 20 & 21, 2014
Shake the Hands that Feed You!
Saturday & Sunday, September 20 & 21, 1 PM to 6 PM
We will be participating in this inaugural weekend of farm tours in the greater metro Richmond area. Load up your car with friends and family (one ticket covers everyone!) and head out for a day — or two — of meeting farmers and seeing where and how your food is grown. Learn more here and stay tuned for the complete list of farms on tour.