Ode to a Tomato

Sigh. The temperatures in my fair city have dropped to the high 60s. I’m already reaching into the hall closet, which hasn’t been opened since April, for my favorite red hoodie, as I clip the leash on Rocco and head to the park where a few leaves are already fading to yellow. Autumn in New York, as Ella Fitzgerald sang, is often mingled with pain, because this year, I missed feasting on late summer tomatoes.

In February as I paid for my CSA share, I had visions of tomatoes covering my kitchen table. August was going to be one giant caprese salad. I was going to roast them, preserve them, and savor their organic goodness all summer. Alas, it was not meant to be because of the late blight.

It’s been well documented for us unlucky east coasters. A contagious fungus, coaxed out and encouraged by the relentless June rain ruined tomato crops throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. The organic farmers were hit especially hard. The farmers at Hawthorne Valley Farm (my CSA farm) enlightened me. Here is an excerpt from their August 27th newsletter:

We didn’t spray copper, a controversial fungicide allowable under some organic standards, that some say would have staved off the late blight on our tomatoes for at least a little while. Under Biodynamic standards, copper is allowable only three times. This season the organic farmers that did choose to use copper sprayed copper many, many more times than three, and still don’t have a strong tomato crop. June and July were so consistently wet that spraying after every rain became quite a job.

Copper is powerful and kills both beneficial and pathogenic fungi in the soil and on the plants. Some farmers worried about the longer term effects of spraying copper on the beneficial organisms in the soil. Building the soil, the soil structure and beneficial organisms that live in the soil, is really the main job of any sustainable farmer. Without a healthy soil system, not much can grow without using a lot of inputs from manufactured fertilizers and manufactured soil amendments (none of which are used here—we use only compost made from our own farm materials).

The decision can be a hard one: to spray copper to save some of a tomato harvest this year, or to forgo the current tomato harvest in favor of a longer term soil health, not to mention that some people are also very sensitive to copper. The copper spray can drift onto other crops if there is any breeze, and if those crops are near to harvest, the copper may not have enough time to degrade to an allowable standard before harvest time.

A person spraying the copper needs to wear special protection to prevent inhaling the copper, or copper coming in contact with any exposed skin or the eyes. With our vegetable crop rotation closely spaced in the ?eld, we decided not to risk contaminating the other crops with copper drift. With all the children on the farm, we decided not to risk any accidental exposure to copper.

To abate my sorrow, I’m going to splurge and order a decadently priced can of San Marzano tomatoes from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Italy. Fortunately, the good people at Gustiamo (my personal version of Bloomingdales) have them in stock, in the Bronx, waiting to be enjoyed.

Till next year, sweet tomatoes…

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One Comment

  1. Kudos for including the Hawthorne Valley Farm excerpt on copper spraying decisions and tomato blight. One more reason to opt for organic produce.

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