Growing tomatoes takes a combination of good planning, specialized farming techniques, and the right location. But in the end, nature decides whether we’ll have a good crop or a bad one, a short or long season, an early or late start. We’ve raced against approaching storms and finished planting in the rain. Other years, we’ve had multiple frosts that require late-night intervention to prevent the young plants from freezing. We’ve had wind storms and heatwaves that wrecked havoc on our fields.
Last year, though, it was a different natural phenomena that had the biggest impact on our tomatoes — Covid-19. Historically restaurants and food service distributors bought most of our heirloom tomatoes. We had already planted two large plantings by the time the economy shut down. We made a split decision: keep farming those fields in case things resolved by summer, but drastically reduce the rest of our scheduled plantings.
Even before harvest began, it was pretty obvious which decision had been the right one. Despite the pandemic-related increase in CSA subscriptions, we ended up harvesting and selling less than half the fruit from the early plantings. Some of those tomatoes went to the food bank, but the majority of them simply went unharvested.
Having learned our lesson from 2020, planning for 2021 seemed like a no-brainer. As always, we made our plans and placed our seed order around Thanksgiving. You may remember that in November, uncertainty was the order of the day. The election was still being argued over and widespread vaccination seemed like a distant goal. There was talk about re-opening in 2021, but whether it would happen by summer was still a huge question. Then there was the question of whether or not TFF would see a dramatic reduction in our CSA subscriptions as people left on extended summer vacations just as tomato harvest was starting.
We settled on an extremely conservative plan — the smallest acreage of tomatoes that we’ve planted in 20 years. Combined with the mild spring weather, it’s been one of the least stressful tomato planting seasons ever for us. In retrospect, the decision was a good one as the overall economy is still stumbling along trying to recover from the devastation of Covid.
Like everyone else, we’re hoping that the economic recovery continues and by the time tomato planning rolls around again in November, things will be getting back to normal. In the meantime, we’ll have plenty of tomatoes for your CSA boxes all summer. We even added an additional late planting to try to extend our season into the fall.
We’re likely to see more natural disasters affect our tomatoes in future years, but I sincerely hope we won’t see another pandemic. I’m sure most folks can agree on that.