We are absolutely, completely head-over-heels in love with local tomatoes! For us, late summer is a great time of year. We've got all sorts of tomatoes coming in from many of our local farms. We've got gorgeous green, yellow, purple, and orange heirloom tomatoes, pints and pints of all varieties of cherry, grape, and other miniature tomatoes, firm and flavorful roma and paste tomatoes, and good ol' red slicing tomatoes.
If you're fairly new to the myriad of tomato varieties, checking out our shelves might seem a little intimidating. Which tomato is best for canning or cooking? What's the difference between the red cherry tomatoes and the yellow ones? Which tomatoes should you choose for slicing on your next sandwich? What's the difference between the tomatoes from the different local farms? We've heard a lot of these questions lately, so we put together this tomato primer! Read on to learn a little more about the local tomatoes that are gracing the shelves at your co-op.
First, Some Terminology
Heirloom? Organic? Paste? What do all of these words mean? Let's look at some of this tomato terminology:
Local: This one's important. Common Ground defines "local" as grown within 100 miles of our store. We currently receive tomatoes from three of our local farms: Blue Moon Farm located in Urbana, IL, Sola Gratia Farm in Urbana, IL, and PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, IL.
Organic: Certified Organic farms grow produce without the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides. Organic farms preserve natural resources and biodiversity, and must follow strict guidelines for soil quality, water quality and more. You can find out more about what organic certification means here.
Heirloom:"Heirloom" denotes a traditional variety of plant or breed of animal that is not associated with large-scale commercial agriculture. Heirloom tomatoes generally have more interesting flavor and texture than traditional red tomatoes. They also tend to be more finicky to grow, which is why you won't find large commercial farms that specialize in heirloom varieties of tomatoes.
Paste: Also known as Roma tomatoes, these oblong fruits have fewer seeds and more meat than other tomatoes. This makes them ideal for using in sauces and soups.
Red Tomatoes: When you want classic tomato flavor, these are your go-to. Versatile, longer-storing, and very delicious, red tomatoes are awesome on sandwiches or salads, and make a great addition to stir-frys and soups too!
Cherry Tomatoes: Perfect for snacking, tossing on top of a salad, or roasting on the grill. Cherry tomatoes tend to be a little sweeter than other varieties, and might just be a little addictive.
Now, Where do those Tomatoes Come From?
We get our tomatoes from three farms within 100 miles of Common Ground.
Blue Moon Farm
We get a lot of tomatoes from our friends at Blue Moon! Blue Moon is a 20 acre farm just 10 miles north of Champaign-Urbana. The farmers at Blue Moon have been hard at work improving farming practices, developing their techniques, and adding crops to their list of offerings. Blue moon grows all kinds of tomatoes: standard reds, heirloom varieties, and lots of cherry tomatoes. We generally get Blue Moon tomatoes early in the season, and see them coming in steadily all summer long and into the early fall. Blue Moon has several hoop houses that allow them to start plants early and keep them protected from frost.
PrairiErth Farm is located in Atlanta, IL (just outside of Bloomington), and is owned by the Bishop Family. Farmers Hans and Katie oversee most of the organic vegetable farming that goes on at PrairiErth. PrairiErth operates on over 300 acres of land, and grows a wide variety of crops and livestock, including alfalfa, corn, soybeans, oats, vegetables, chickens, pork, and beef. Hans and Katie brought the farm to the Downtown Bloomington Farmer’s market and implemented one of the few USDA Certified Organic CSA’s in central IL. We're currently carrying a rainbow's worth of heirloom tomatoes from PrairiErth.
Sola Gratia Farm
Sola Gratia Farm is our closest source of tomatoes right now. Located right in Urbana, IL, the farm is under five miles from Common Ground's front door! Sola Gratia Farm is a four-acre community garden located behind St. Matthew Lutheran Church on Philo Road. Sola Gratia primarily grows produce to supply it's CSA, and they also have a farm stand and sell to CGFC. Sola Gratia also donates at least 10% of their harvest to the Eastern Illinois Food Bank. We've got several varieties of cherry tomatoes in from Sola Gratia right now.