Valley Bounty: Tomatoes

The field tomato harvest is in full swing at farms across the Pioneer Valley. For Dean Landale, owner of The Bars Farm in Deerfield, the tomato harvest will last until the first frost hits in the autumn.

Tomatoes are a signature crop for The Bars Farm. To keep their quality consistent year after year, Landale is constantly experimenting with new tomato breeds. “You have to keep trying out new varieties because you never know when you won’t be able to get the seed that’s always been good for you,” Landale said. For example, the Majesty tomato variety used to be one of the farm’s mainstays. One year, Landale learned at the last minute that the seed company had stopped producing Majesty. “We were left scrambling to try and find a variety to replace it,” he said. Landale recognizes that national seed companies often cater their tomato breeding for large-scale growers in the Southeast. Making sure he has plenty of genetics to choose from on the farm shields Landale from the whims of the national seed market that may not be focused on our region.

Believe it or not, Landale has never liked the taste of tomatoes. “I mean they’re red, that’s about all I can say for them,” he said. For years, it was Landale’s late wife, Allison, who was the farm’s tomato expert. She taste-tested every new variety they tried to grow. “She was a tomato fanatic,” Landale said. “If she tried a variety and she didn’t think it tasted good, we w o u l d n’t even pick it.”

As Landale’s father-in-law began to step away from the farm over a decade ago, it was Allison who persuaded Landale to take up growing full-time. “She convinced me to quit my job because she said the farm would be fun,” he continued. Landale did enjoy farming but when Allison passed away in 2017, it turned the farm, and Landale’s life, upside down. Not only was Landale grieving his wife’s passing, he had to take over the essential roles Allison had played on the farm. “I had to regroup,” he explained. “The whole game plan changed.”

Landale had always covered the fieldwork while Allison ran their farm stand and marketed the produce. Suddenly, he was thrust into a new world of courting buyers and moving product. Now that some time has passed, I asked Landale if he feels more comfortable with his new role on the farm.

“I’m getting there,” he said. “It was kind of like being thrown into the deep end and not knowing how to swim. You’re either going to sink or come out of it. This year has been better than the last couple, so hopefully we’re heading in the right direction.”

While Landale has always avoided eating tomatoes himself, he has a number of recipes that he enjoyed cooking up for his tomato-loving wife. While we’re in the height of the season, he recommends grabbing a big local tomato and scooping out the ‘guts’ of the fruit. Scramble some eggs with sliced sausage, then add the scooped-out guts to the scramble. Sprinkle on some cheese and stuff everything into the hollowed-out tomato. Toss it under the broiler for five minutes, then enjoy it while it’s hot.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).