Sunday afternoon was Linda Crago’s annual Tomato Bash at her Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm in Niagara. It’s her annual party to celebrate the ripening of her tomatoes and show off the crazy diversity of her farm. The Tomato Bash centred around Linda’s tasting table packed full with over a hundred different varieties of tomatoes. Everyone was encouraged to taste each variety and vote for their favourite.
Linda’s farm is based around the notion of open pollination. Modern farming practices are generally based on hybridized seeds that are the results of forced breeding. This isn’t a terrible thing, sometimes you can get some wonderful results, but generally saving and growing the seeds of the resulting fruit are unreliable, and sometimes even illegal if patented.
Open-pollinated seeds can be saved year after year. They’re able to, over generations, get used to a climate and be selected based on positive attributes. Our own garden this year features a row of delicious peppers planted from the seeds of one pepper we ate last summer.
Linda’s farm is a staunch opponent of the idea of industrial agriculture. There is likely more genetic diversity in her few small acres than there were in the sum of all of the monoculture fields on the trip to farm.
One of the unique things we tried were Szechuan Buttons, a grassy flavoured herb that has a built-in painkiller. When eaten, it numbs your mouth and causes you to salivate. I guess that’s why it’s been traditionally known as the “toothache herb”.
The best part of the day was her garden tour. Showing off, yard-long beans, chinese pickling cucumbers and the most interesting thing to me, an “angora” tomato plant. The leaves of this variety didn’t have the typical green, they were lighter and duller because they were covered in hair. And the fruit was hairy as well. It felt more like a peach than a tomato.
We planted about twelve different varieties of tomatoes this year, which felt like a lot, but to have 101 varieties to taste, and probably many more out in the garden just shows us how diverse nature is.
In a world where we’re used to going to the supermarket to buy a “tomato” that is picked green in Florida, ripened in a truck, and shined up to look like the perfect image of a red tomato, Linda’s farm stands out. She’s proof that there’s really no such thing as just “a tomato”.
Make sure you get a piece of Tree and Twig’s diversity. We have. We’re growing a lot of vegetables from Linda’s own seed. If starting from seed is a bit daunting, she has a seedling sale every spring, where you can find a whole garden’s worth of plants. She also has a CSA you can sign up for if you’re in the area.