Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Tomatoes Under Glass

We recently delivered some equipment to Windset Farms in Santa Maria, California.  It's a huge facility, and they're adding more greenhouses to their operation.  They already have two 32-acre greenhouses in place - three million square feet on 64 acres!  Under glass.  According to the CEO of Windset Farms, this facility is the most sustainable greenhouse in the world, with no carbon footprint and the recycling and reuse of water.

Ed spoke to the guy who was loading the equipment on our truck, a Dutch guy from the Netherlands, who said he travels around the world installing the greenhouses their company designs.

You can see the facility, far in the distance. It starts on the right side, where the spot of red is, and continues to the left side, past the edge of the photo.  I took this shot from the truck, as we drove down the road adjacent to the field.
Workers were diligently following the tractor, periodically bending over to pick up or place items in the dirt - I couldn't exactly figure out what they were doing. 
And even though it was hot, they were bundled from head to toe in long pants, long-sleeved sweatshirts, hoods, bandanas and hats, to shield themselves from the sun.  I can't imagine how miserable doing that job must be.  All so we can have a few tomatoes.
The article states the tomatoes here are hydroponically grown, without the use of most herbicides and pesticides.  But according to the guy who loaded our equipment, the one who travels all over the world to install these greenhouses, the tomatoes grown in them aren't even worth eating.  He said, "If you knew how they grew these things, you wouldn't even eat them."  He said that people think the tomatoes are grown in gardens, like we know them to be, but that many of these are grown in bags, with 10% dirt and 90% chemicals. 

That seems to fit with what Barry Estabrook, the author of Tomatoland has to say about tomato production.  I've started to read the book and it's fascinating.  It also makes me never want to eat another tomato.  This is what the blurb from Amazon.com says about the book:

"Supermarket produce sections bulging with a year-round supply of perfectly round, bright red-orange tomatoes have become all but a national birthright. But in Tomatoland, which is based on his James Beard Award-winning article, "The Price of Tomatoes," investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry.

Fields are sprayed with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides. Tomatoes are picked hard and green and artificially gassed until their skins acquire a marketable hue. Modern plant breeding has tripled yields, but has also produced fruits with dramatically reduced amounts of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and tomatoes that have fourteen times more sodium than the tomatoes our parents enjoyed. The relentless drive for low costs has fostered a thriving modern-day slave trade in the United States. How have we come to this point?

Estabrook traces the supermarket tomato from its birthplace in the deserts of Peru to the impoverished town of Immokalee, Florida, a.k.a. the tomato capital of the United States. He visits the laboratories of seedsmen trying to develop varieties that can withstand the rigors of agribusiness and still taste like a garden tomato, and then moves on to commercial growers who operate on tens of thousands of acres, and eventually to a hillside field in Pennsylvania, where he meets an obsessed farmer who produces delectable tomatoes for the nation's top restaurants.

Throughout Tomatoland, Estabrook presents a who's who cast of characters in the tomato industry: the avuncular octogenarian whose conglomerate grows one out of every eight tomatoes eaten in the United States; the ex-Marine who heads the group that dictates the size, color, and shape of every tomato shipped out of Florida; the U.S. attorney who has doggedly prosecuted human traffickers for the past decade; and the Guatemalan peasant who came north to earn money for his parents' medical bills and found himself enslaved for two years. Tomatoland reads like a suspenseful whodunit as well as an expose of today's agribusiness systems and the price we pay as a society when we take taste and thought out of our food purchases."

If you're interested, this is the article the book was based on, and it's quite eye-opening.  Since reading part of the book, I've taken to really looking at tomatoes now, but even if they're tagged "locally grown", it doesn't matter much if "local" means the greenhouse up the road in Santa Maria, or any of the other place that grow fruits and vegetables in this manner. 

I eat almost anything, from anywhere, but the way our food is being treated, as the years go by, and the more I learn about it, the more I've become wary of almost everything.  Lately, the only fruit and vegetables I feel comfortable with, are the ones I see at roadside farm stands.

That said, there are some pretty fabulous recipes on the Windset Farms website, and I'll be making this one over the weekend; with store bought tomatoes!

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2011: The Best Seat In The House
2010: Countdown To Pisa
2009: Eddie Goes Waaaay South Friday
2008: Port Of Long Beach
2007: Layers Of History
2006: Would I Be Cheesy If I Said I Wanted To Drive THIS Rig??
2005: Paper Glow

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