Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ode to a Tomato (And a Way of Life)

On impulse the other day, I pulled over to a roadside farm stand not very far from my new home.  Handpainted signs proclaimed "Farm Fresh Produce" and "HEIRLOOM Tomatoes."  As I approached the small open barn, a young man got up from his folding beach chair where he was reading in the sun to greet me.  Inspecting his meager offerings -- the promised heirlooms, some regular garden tomatoes, and a few squashes (it is the end of the season, after all, so the pickings are naturally slim) -- we got to chatting, and I learned about the farm and received a local history lesson in the process.

It turns out that this whole area used to be pear orchards.  The farmer's grandfather purchased hundreds of acres years ago, where he raised cattle.  But long before that, the property was a Pony Express outpost.  Still there are the Pony Express' hand-dug well and forge.  I don't know why I find this so extraordinarily cool (The Pony Express!  For real!  They were right down the road!), but I do.  The forge building is now used by the farmer's brother for auto repair, and except for the anvil which still remains, the original forge tools now grace the living room walls of various of the farmer's relatives.

There's only 25 acres of the family parcel left now.  The young farmer has long wanted to be an organic farmer, and recently he decided to try to make a go of it.  He says the locals have been supportive, and he plans on expanding his vegetable offerings and wants to plant a fruit orchard.  I sure hope he's successful.  Preserving farm land (especially small-scale and organic), agricultural communities, and access to quality food is something that's dear to my heart. 

Arriving home, I sliced up one of those tomatoes and took a bite.  They were nothing like the tomato imposters found at the grocery store; these were imperfect, knobby and blemished, like many a home-grown tomato.  But they tasted like a tomato should:  of the fading summer, the rich earth, and a young man's dreams.  Actually, they were perfect.

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