My friend, Gray, raises tomatoes. 10,000 lbs of heirloom tomatoes that come off a single acre that he plants, using sustainable farming practices. I am often the beneficiary of many of these tomatoes for which I am truly grateful. There is nothing that tastes quite as good as an heirloom, grown on good soil, fertilized by the land and the sun.
During the really busy weeks Gray, his daughter, Maggie and their friend Joe can spend up to 16 hours a day picking and packing the tomatoes for local delivery.Wanting to thank him for all the tomatoes he so kindly gives me, I decided to go and spend a day picking. Last Sunday was the day. I picked tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. A ton of tomatoes. Well, I didn’t actually pick a whole ton by myself, that’s a lot of work. But even the 40 or 50 lbs that I did pick opened my eyes to a whole new world.
Picking tomatoes is not an easy task. It is amazing how well seated they can become between the vines and the strings that tie them up. When you are looking at hundreds of tomatoes, you start losing your perspective…is this one ripe enough? No…ok, how about that one? We would pick a row at a time, lay the tomatoes on their “shoulders” in the straw, out of the sun and then come back later with the boxes to collect them. I was on my knees, I was bending over, and a few times I found myself doing gymnastics trying to get the darn things off of the vine. I am not even going to tell you how I felt the next morning!
Gray starts his tomatoes from seed, in the greenhouse. When the time comes, he transplants them out to the fields that have been specially prepared. Gray has quite a lot of land on which he can plant but because he practices sustainable farming, many of the fields are growing cover crop that will be plowed under to fertilize the land. The tomatoes rotate from field to field, producing healthy, chemical free heirlooms.
After picking, we went in to sort and pack. Each tomato is evaluated, cleaned off with a rag and placed carefully in a box. Early the next morning, Gray will load up the pickup with tons of tomatoes and deliver to the local restaurants and a few of boutique grocery stores that only want his tomatoes.
All in all, it is back breaking work. From the start of the seeds to delivery in the stores, hundreds of hours have gone into growing, nurturing and picking. It made me think about my food in a whole different way. A much less “taking it for granted” kind of way.
Tomorrow: some great recipes from using those wonderful tomatoes!