Bradley County tomatoes will be the star this weekend, after all


WARREN — Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? There will be — I repeat, there WILL BE — local ‘maters at this weekend’s Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival.

But it was a close thing, said Bradley County Extension Staff Chair John Gavin.

“We will have some tomatoes,” he said Monday. “There are a few farmers going to start picking some later this week. We got what we need for the festival; it may not be an overly abundant supply scattered about, but like I said, they’re starting to come.”

Weather gives and takes

Weather, the farmer’s best friend and worst foe, was the cause of the tomato cliffhanger.

“We had three real good cold periods or cool periods in April, which slowed down the growth and development of the plants while they were in the field,” Gavin said. “All happened about a week apart and ran for two or three days. Then it would warm back up and we’d just get going real good, then another cold period.”

But it looks like the recent warm stretch has saved the day for the festival. Gavin said the first box of local tomatoes was delivered on Monday and more farmers were expected to run harvests before the end of the week.

Economics has something to do with the situation, as well, he said. Because more and more farmers are holding large tracts of land, they can have ripe tomatoes in the field but need to hold off on harvesting until they know they can get the yield per acre they need to pay their picking crews, cover their expenses and, hopefully, turn a profit.

“It used to be people would maybe go over 3 or 4 acres a little earlier, even though it may not be however many boxes to the acre they were looking for, say 50 or 75,” he said.

Not the first close call

This wasn’t the first time the Pink Tomato Festival looked in danger of not having the homegrown product on hand. It also ran close in 1992 or 1993, Gavin said, though they did end up with local tomatoes at the festival and the market opened the following Monday.

A Bradley County resident since 1990 himself, Gavin says he takes his tomatoes diced up with salt and pepper, and maybe a splash of vinegar.

“Oh, I do like a BLT, but that’s probably my second favorite way,” he said. “If it’s a good Bradley County tomato, I can just dice it in a bowl, stir in the salt and pepper, and go to town.”

For more information about growing tomatoes, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu. For more information on the Bradley County Pink Tomato festival, www.bradleypinktomato.com.