Why to Grow Tomatoes
A couple of years ago, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to remain in the nonprofit world or leave my office and grow food. It was early summer in Boston, and I lived with an eclectic and wonderful group of people in a hostel. One of my roommates would often come home with little gifts – one day, she brought me a tomato plant. I sat down and breathed in the thick, intoxicating smell coming from its leaves. And then (to everyone’s delight) I started to cry.
Taking care of tomatoes is a singular experience at the farm. If growing carrots and lettuce is a conversation, growing tomatoes is a dance. Each plant has a personality, choosing to remain compact and uniform or spreading in a wild, untamed tangle. After a few weeks, they fill the greenhouse with golden bursts, which transform into painted fruits in deep reds, greens, and yellows. Cracks and lines carve down the sides of the heirlooms, while the cherries swell like juicy grapes. We are a part of this: we show up each week, tie them up the trellis, pick off the suckers and fungus-spotted leaves, come home with scaley, silvery fingers from their tar. But we are simply supporting characters in the tomato drama.
I love tomatoes because of their autonomy. I love the meditation of pruning, choosing which leaves to keep and which to pluck off, the full attention each plant requires. I love seeing farmer-artists leading their vines in arcs and patterns, up tall trellises or hanging off of precarious twine. It’s an intimacy you don’t often get with your crops, since so many of them grow without regular interaction. When you eat the citric, sweet, hearty fruit from your plants, it is like a gift from an old friend.
I often think about the plant that reminded me why I want to farm, and how grateful I am that it came into my life at that crossroads. I don’t know if the tomatoes would mind if we stopped coming to see them so often, but I know that I would miss them very much.