By Bobbie Whitehead
Area markets have plenty of farm fresh tomatoes for sale now that the bulk of many growers’ tomatoes have begun to ripen.
The availability is good news for consumers who have asked for local tomatoes since the June salmonella scare, which didn't involve Virginia-grown products.
“After we convinced everybody we grew the tomatoes, we sold a lot of them. Then, it brought up the question for other items, ‘Where was this grown?'" said Lee Evans of Evans Farms on Wilroy Road in Suffolk, who planted a second crop of tomatoes a few weeks ago. “I’ll have tomatoes up until the first frost.”
Virginia’s commercial and local market tomato growers weren’t affected by the Food and Drug Administration warning since most state tomato growers hadn’t harvested theirs yet with the exception of a few local markets that had early varieties as well as farmers who grow tomatoes in greenhouses. The FDA removed its warning in July for both U.S. tomatoes and peppers, having found salmonella at a Mexican pepper farm.
With plenty of tomatoes ready for harvest now, some area growers say a later-than-normal harvests resulted from either the two hot weeks in June or the cool April and May temperatures. Whatever the reason, August began with tomato growers and farmers having a bountiful crop of plump, juicy red, yellow, or orange tomatoes of varying varieties.
At the Suffolk City Market and Country Store, Kevin Beale, partner with Beale and Johnson Markets LLC, said the growers selling produce at the market have been busy with customers wanting to buy local fruits and vegetables, particularly tomatoes.
“The growers are selling gobs of tomatoes,” Beale said. “I don’t think the tomato scare ever really slowed us down.”
In fact, Beale said one vendor at the Suffolk City Market and Country Store sold eight to 10 boxes of tomatoes last week alone. At Beale’s home garden, he said he’s just now seeing some of his tomatoes ripen.
“I have never in my life seen tomatoes ripen so late,” Beale said. “One variety is ripening, but the other varieties aren’t turning. In another week or so, though, my tomatoes will be ready.”
The two weeks of 100-degree temperatures in June may have set back the tomatoes, Beale said.
“Tomatoes are so temperamental,” Beale said.
In Isle of Wight County, Matthew Harrison of W.N. Howell Farms said he has plenty of customers asking for tomatoes.
“That scare made some folks lose a whole lot of money,” Harrison said.
Earlier in the summer, though, Harrison said they lost 400 to 500 plants to the wilt virus, and he added that the heat during June probably didn’t help much.
“We’re starting to pick now,” said Harrison, who sells from his farm and at the Franklin Farmers Market. “We’ve been steady planting and have some more that are starting to bloom.”
J.M. Erwin of Erwin Orchards in Zuni, too, has tomatoes, saying his are just now coming in, and with so many tomatoes ripe now, he’ll be selling them at the Windsor Farmers Market, he said.
During the spring, Erwin said he and his wife weren’t able to plant their tomatoes because the temperatures were cold longer than usual.
“It’s only been about a week that we’ve had a sufficient crop,” Erwin said.