AS YOU ALL KNOW BY NOW, there are few, if any, tomatoes left in the Northeast U.S., so they say. No doubt about it, it’s been a devastating blow to many farmers, home gardeners and cooks.
There’s nothing to make light of about what’s happened to this year’s crop. It’s hurt farmers, chefs and consumers. We’ll likely be seeing extra shipments of California technofarm-raised fruit overflowing grocery store shelves any day now to fill the gap.
They will tempt some, no doubt.
Personally, I could walk right by those bins and never blink an eye. Truth be known, I don’t like tomatoes, and I don’t know why anybody does. They come from a nightshade plant and everybody knows every other part of the plant is deadly poison. But somebody figured out you can eat this dripping red globule and call it delicious.
Right now, we’re sitting at a table, staring at a tray containing seven tomatoes of various shapes and sizes. Some are the size of a silver dollar. Nevermind what they cost; we are, I suppose, rightfully treating them like a treasure this year. We should, in fact, be treating these tomatoes, as well as the melons, the corn, the squash and every other miscellaneous vegetable, animal and mineral that comes off the farms as a treasure, every year, because they are.
The blight and the weather this year have been a double whammy to Northeast agriculture, which, in truth, has been relatively lucky, historically. Local losses from storms, diseases and drought happen all the time, but pandemics like this year’s blight, at least in my memory, on this scale, in this country, have been relatively rare.
Some farmers, though severely affected by the blight, are still managing to salvage part of the season because of their diversified planting. What they’ve lost in tomatoes, they’ll try to make up with other crops. Some can cover their losses, some cannot.
I’m not a farmer, so I can’t completely fathom what this will mean to their economy or morale. But it is a warning, I think, to all of us about how fragile our food system is, and how much we rely on the resiliency (read: stubbornness) of our local farmers to keep us fed. Why they have to feed us tomatoes, I don’t know.