Last June Fresh Air aired an interview with Barry Estabrook based on Barry Estabrook‘s book Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. I meant to write a post about it back then, but laziness got the best of me. Don’t judge.
I have not read the book, but the interview with Estabrook was endlessly fascinating. I guess anyone who has made the mistake of purchasing a tomato in the winter from a big box grocery store knows how actual garden tomatoes don’t even compare, but it sounds like his book tells us why this is the case. Much of the reason is through breeding and development that favors ship-ability, volume, and attractiveness of the fruit rather than nutrition and taste, and another reason is inhospitable climates that the tomatoes are grown in. He also delves into the horrendous labor practices in the tomato industry, and how some growers have been successfully prosecuted for having slaves. I learned a bunch of other stuff, too, but I’m trying to keep this post to a palatable length.
I had always assumed that tomatoes are grown in Florida because the climate is perfect for them, but apparently this is not the case. The humidity is actually really bad for the tomato plants, and so the farmers are resigned to constantly spraying their crops so as to prevent mildew and disease problems that would naturally arise. Estabrook has identified 100 different herbicides and pesticides that are recommended for farmers in Florida to use on one crop of tomatoes.
Thinking back to my own experience with tomatoes, it makes sense that Florida is not ideal. Our summers here are much shorter than Florida, but it still gets very humid. By the end of the 2010 summer year all my tomato plants were a pretty sad sight from the powdery mildew that I was unable to control. Last year it was less of a problem because I did a few things differently:
1. watered early in the day.
2. avoided water on the leaves of the plants while watering.
3. spaced the plants properly.
4. Got lucky.