The Nation Discusses Tomatoes
Remy Franklin Jul 16, 2011 News 0 comments
Summer is in full swing in New Hampshire, but the first local field tomatoes won’t appear for a few more weeks. Yet, most consumers have grown accustomed to the everlasting supply of tomatoes on supermarket shelves nationwide. Where do these tomatoes come from and what’s the real cost of what we pay for a tomato in March? In Tomatoland: how modern industrial agriculture destroyed our most alluring fruit, food journalist Barry Estabrook follows our winter tomatoes back to the vine in...South Florida.
Estabrook follows the life of a supermarket tomato revealing, “the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry” and tells us “why supermarket tomatoes tend to taste so bad — and how they got that way.” Politics of the Plate, NPR
The book swept the nation last month with it was released, getting rave reviews with authors from Eric Schlosser to Bill McKibben calling it a must read. A month later, the subject is still making national food news, dominating the front page of Politics of the Plate this week and appearing in articles on NPR, ChronicleHerald.ca and The New York Times. Civileats also just announced that tomatoes will be the subject of their Kitchen Table Talks next month in San Francisco, although the announcement wasn’t explicitly linked to the Tomatoland.
It turns out that Florida isn’t the only source of tomatoes in winter. If you live in New England you might have been lucky enough to encounter one of Dave Chapman’s tomatoes in your co-op food store, local restaurant or even Stop ‘N Shop. Long Wind Farms specializes in greenhouse tomatoes that taste like they “came from your grandfather’s garden.” Dave explains his business model saying, “The important thing we’ve done is to successfully go into a commodity market and sell tomatoes not as a commodity. We try very hard to make sure they taste better than anyone else’s.”
Dave didn’t read Tomatoland and he probably doesn’t need to. Long Wind Farms was battling bland tomatoes in New England before anyone complained about them. With more than two decades of experience, Dave grows his tomatoes in Dutch-model glass greenhouses with computerized climate control systems that keep his unique variety of tomatoes warm and ripening year-round. While his product is pricier than your average supermarket tomato, Dave doesn’t think his consumers are limited to the affluent. In his eyes, “there are an awful lot of people in America who like a good tasting tomato, so that’s a big market.”
Many localvores would question the sustainability of growing tomatoes year-round in New England, and Dave acknowledges the shortcomings of his propane-heated greenhouses. “When Long Wind started we didn’t think about environmental problems as much as we do now,” Dave says, but since setting energy reduction goals in 2003 the farm has cut total consumption by one-third.
While propane is still Long Wind’s biggest cost, they are becoming more efficient, and Dave is optimistic about the future. “I think in ten years we’ll get to the point where it makes more ecological sense to do this. Right now it’s a bit crazy. My goal isn’t to get by without cold beer, but to figure out how to get cold beer without destroying the planet.”
July 7: The Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Production reached a landmark agreement calling for “a national labeling program for all eggs sold in commerce” that “promises to provide consumers with more information on the production practices used by egg farmers.” HSUS Blog
July 9: A Michigan woman faces 93 days in jail for planting a vegetable garden in her front lawn. She was ticketed and charged with a misdemeanor after refusing to remove the garden that didn’t adhere to city ordinances. Treehugger.com
July 13: Food Safety News reports the Obama administration has “made food safety and nutrition a priority, but realizing this and translating it into fewer recalls, outbreaks and illnesses will take more than a couple of months.” Food Safety News
July 14: The FDA is revising the nutritional facts label as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to make nutritional information easier for consumers to understand. After accusations that the industry’s new label can’t be trusted, the News21 project and GOOD have organized a label design competition and put together a panel of judges to help democratize the process and create a nutritional facts label “for the people.” Civileats
July 8: The number of dairy farms for in Vermont has fallen below 1,000 for the first time in more than a century, but officials say the industry is thriving. With more milk but fewer cows, the idea of cows on a hillside is becoming “an outdated vision of rural America.” Vermont Public Radio
July 14: Several towns in Maine have voted to give small farmers the ability to opt out of federal and state food safety regulations, becoming the first towns in the United States to pass a food Sovereignty ordinance. The movement, which started in Sedwick, Maine, in March, is covered in a 26 min. feature on Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
July 15: Hardwick, Vermont, sees a local food revival, where there are, “more organic farms per capita… than anywhere else in the world.” NPR
July 15: Community supported agriculture holds steady membership in Vermont, despite lagging production due to spring flooding. Vermont Public Radio
by Remy Franklin