Posted on Wed, July 29, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
2 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Contaminated Food, Farms and Farming, News, Current Events,
by Winnie Yang
Its the moment weve all been waiting for. We dreamt of it in the depths of winter. Its been eagerly awaited by produce lovers, farmers, and Italian grandmas. The height of summer: its finally here, and the farmers markets runneth over with squash, peppers, corn, berries, green beans, and tom Wait. Where are the tomatoes?
As you may have heard (here, for instance), Northeast tomato crops have been decimated by a widespread outbreak of late blight. The highly contagious fungus is believed to have spread from plants in garden stores to backyard gardens and commercial fields, Julia Moskin reports in the New York Times. A rainy June exacerbated the spread of the blight, which thrives in damp, windy weather.
The disease affects both tomatoes and potatoes (a strain of it caused the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s) and is so infectious that plants showing any signs of disease must be destroyed. Burning, spraying and deeply burying infected plants are options for farmers, Moskin writes. Home gardeners should pull plants out at the first sign of the disease. Rather than composting them, the plants should be sealed in plastic bags and thrown away.
For organic growers, the results have been especially disastrous. Here in New York, Stone Barns has had to throw out at least half their tomato crop, farmers in the Hudson Valley are now dealing with the blights spread to potatoes, and losses for many are mounting into the tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.
Those trying to save their surviving plants have had to resort to spraying many for the first time in decades, if ever. My CSA, like others in the area, is using fixed copper, a certified organic fungicide. As farmers Chris and Kate wrote on their blog,
We have very mixed feelings about copper, about spraying in general… But the dilemma is that we have put a lot of work into these plants. They are among the earliest seeded in the green house. They are then transplanted into larger cell trays, they are then transplanted onto black plastic outside. They are then trellised each week to keep them from falling over. Hours and hours of labor. And trying to save them will be hours and hours more labor.
It looks like there wont be any CSA tomatoes this year. There are still tomatoes to be had at the Greenmarket, though the farms offering them are far fewer. Ive not yet noticed a significant price hike (have you?), but every visit to Union Square is accompanied with a little bit of anxiety that maybe Ive seen the last of the tomatoes until next July.
Thankfully, my fire escape tomatoes are thriving, and Ive been able to harvest a few Amish Pastes and Brandywines over the past couple of weeks. Keeping my fingers crossed, though. The tomato sandwiches are a little bittersweet this year, but I appreciate them all that much more. And man, I tell you, pretty much nothing tastes better or more like summer than a tomato sandwich.
Winnie Yang, formerly the editor of The Snail, is the managing editor of The Art of Eating. She makes open-faced tomato sandwiches with good sandwich bread, toasted and slathered with homemade mayo and paved with sliced ripe tomatoes.