My recent tomato journey began with reading an article in Gourmet Magazine,
(Politics of the Plate), The Price of Tomatoes, March 2009, where the author Barry Estabrook describes the conditions for thousands of migrant workers who work our fields harvesting our vegetables and fruit crops. This particular article focused on tomatoes grown in Immokalee, Florida, which produces 90% of our nation's tomatoes during the months from December to May. The condition in which these migrant workers live and work is appalling. According to the article, "Immokalee has another claim to fame" it is "ground zero for modern slavery" said Douglas Malloy, the chief assistant U.S. attorney in Fort Myers. Since 1997, over 1,000 men and women have been freed by law enforcement and these were only the cases that led to conviction. How many other countless cases went unnoticed? Reading this, leaves me without my breath....In this modern day, who does this? Big growers do behind the cloak of the crew bosses who hire and oversee migrant workers for what exactly? Tasteless supermarket and fast-food restaurant tomatoes! Right away, I make a promise to myself, I will not purchase tomatoes that are not grown and harvested ethically. I will enjoy the bounty of tomatoes from the garden of my friends, and maybe even if I am lucky, my own garden.
My journey evolves into a love story with tomatoes. I am now on a mission, growing my own tomatoes, a more avid consumer of farmer's market. I have this opportunity every Saturday morning at Market Square where Farmer Herman and Louise bring their early morning, just-picked seasonal fruit and vegetables. Farmer Herman also shares a love of tomatoes heirloom tomatoes. The true definition of heirloom has been debated. Some say the seeds need to be 100 years old, some say 50 years old and other say 1945, which marked the end of WWII and the beginning of the use of the hybrid seed which is produced by artificially cross-pollinated plants. Vegetable and fruit hybrids, which often leave you with less flavor, are bred to improve the appearance and were developed to sustain the booming U.S. agricultural industry after WWII.
For the first time, I have joined the ranks of the backyard heirloom tomato growers, and have planted with serious consideration the following heirloom varieties:
- Farmer Herman's Little Yeller-prolific and delicious
- Brown Berry Cherry- Lil' cherries with a purple hue
- Silvery Fir winner of the 2005 taste test- A great medium size tomato ideal for containers.