There’s nothing like the flavor of a cool, fresh farm-raised tomato on a hot Arkansas summer day. These past years, it’s been harder to find those heirloom tomatoes at market. But the Arkansas Agriculture Department and the University of Arkansas Monticello are working to change that.
Today there was a tomato tasting inside the state capitol rotunda. This is one of several tomato tastings being held here and there to try out these gorgeous globes. Twelve different sorts of tomatoes were offered for visitors to try.
So, how did this get started? Well, it went like this. Two years ago the University of Arkansas Monticello started doing some market research — geared at giving consumers choices beyond what’s called the packing tomato, which is the sort of pasty tomato you see come to market right now. Researchers picked up 20-30 different sorts of heirloom tomatoes and employed modern techniques and production values in raising them. Seven or eight varieties did particularly well, so the team contacted local tomato farmers and had them give those seeds a shot.
It didn’t take long to grow a batch here and there and send them on to Whole Foods and Fresh Market in Little Rock. Now the school is running taste-testings here and there to determine which of these varieties will do best with consumers. After all, a lot of this comes down to the bottom line — and if the customer chooses one tomato over another, there’s going to be a greater demand for that tomato.
Wondering what defines an heirloom tomato? That’s a tomato that’s been around for at least 50 years… well, not an individual tomato, that’d be crazy! No, it’s a tomato grown from seeds of a tomato just like it, that’s just like one grown 50 years or more ago. We may look at a yellow or purple or striped tomato these days and think “hmm, that’s weird,” but years ago they were all sorts of different colors, just like apples.