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Heirloom Tomatoes & the Summer Farm Job


When I woke up in 2022, I didn’t know I’d be spending many of my days tying up tomatoes and admiring the painted colors on the fruits.

Last spring, I started a new job at one of the local organic farms in my area. We are blessed to live in a community with an abundance of organically grown food right here in local soil. I’m a total foodie and value where my food comes from and how it is grown. I’ve found from working with organic & home grown food, that it ALWAYS tastes better and is so satisfying to eat.

What else is satisfying is watching these tiny baby plants start out from seeds, encapsulated in hard shells, that somehow just know how to manifest into the perfect form to create not only amazing food for us, but intricate, vibrant beauty not even comparable to fine art. I truly believe that nature is made for humans, that we are meant to enjoy and relish in all the multidimensionality of it, and of course - eat what we please.

The farm I worked at was an interesting blend of businesses. We did all the things - though on a smaller scale. In the spring, we had a full nursery equipped with flowers, vegetable starts, and even some trees. All of our tomatoes are grown in greenhouses, one for each type of tomato - slicers, heirlooms, and cherries. In the two other hot houses, we grew vegetables like kale, eggplant, peppers, carrots. AND we had a flower CSA share - we grew TONS of flowers! Zinnias, marigolds, ageratums, asters, euphorias, amaranth, milkweed, celosia, sunflowers. You name it, it was probably grown here. Up on the hill we grew about an acre of miscellaneous things - garlic, more flowers, melons, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins. We even had micro greens that we grew and harvested every week; believe it or not it is an all season crop. Each day, I could count on doing something different and was always in for a surprise.




So, perhaps you’re wondering the process for tomatoes? If not then too bad, I’m telling you anyway! We grew indeterminate tomatoes, which basically means they grow like a vine. Determinate tomatoes grow like a bush. With vine tomatoes, there is a process that goes along with them to insure they produce well and live long into the season. The farm I work at grew tomatoes in bags, so each tomato had its own bag it lived in and was fed an organic fertilizer through the irrigation system set up in each greenhouse. They were planted early in the year, the greenhouses being heated so we could harvest tomatoes by the end of May. Once the weather warmed up, the plants grew about a foot or so every week. To keep them trained and organized well, we went through and clipped each tomato stem to a string that was tied up to horizontal metal poles going across each row. Once the tomato plants reached the height of the pole, we lowered the string a couple of feet so the top of the plant was head level - about five feet from the ground - and continued to clip the plant to the string. By the end of the season, each plant was about twenty feet long or longer and wrapped around the opposite side of the row. I put some pictures here so you can get a visual!




This process was such a labor of love. Hands turned a pasty green and dirt caked under the fingernails. Sweat poured from our faces, and half time time we couldn’t wear much because the greenhouses would be well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Hundreds of podcasts and songs were listened to during the days performing this process for hundreds of plants. Each greenhouse would take about a day for the six of us to finish, whether that be "tying up" tomatoes and pruning them, or harvesting from the three greenhouses - making it a great job for those who enjoy solitude and hard work. For me, I enjoyed working with each plant - tying them up, picking off their suckers, and telling them they’re beautiful. Once midsummer came about, the heirlooms began ripening, each variety unique in size, color, shape, and taste.

Heirloom tomatoes also have such fun names. I’ll put some of my favorites below with their names so you can imagine their essence with me :)




Besides working with tomatoes all summer, I made some friendships that really touched me. It was truly refreshing to come out of a dark time in my life (and well, didn't we all experience some gnarly stuff the last few years??) and into a bright & colorful place. Together, we cared for this beautiful farm and toiled all day while laughing together and having a good time.


The climax to the season was the tomato festival in September. We grew around 30 different varieties of tomatoes and threw a festival to celebrate. People in the community came for live music, a tomato tasting, farm tours, local food vendors and enjoyed hanging out with all the farm staff. A week before we saved up all the heirloom tomatoes we could so there'd be enough for everyone to try! The long table turned into a beefy rainbow, a section for heirlooms and a section for cherry tomatoes all laid out on cream colored plates like a buffet. I smirked under my bowed head, slicing tomatoes and filling plates while watching people from town roll down the line with their toothpicks and smuckering lips. Surprisingly, the Blush & Sungold and Black Krim & Green Zebra were the crowd's favorites this year!





Tomatoes were definitely my top inspirer this year. I couldn't help myself but to make a few designs to put on t-shirts and mugs... :D You can find them on my webshop, the Rainbow Tomato shirt and the heirloom tomato mug. I'm anticipating more heirloom tomato designs, so be on the lookout if you're interested in such things!








Thanks so much for reading this blog post! If you'd like to join me for a week of "work," check out my vlog where I bring you with to the farm and to a window washing job.




Cheers!


Ashley