Why I am Glad that I Grow Tomatoes

I love tomatoes.  When I think about vegetables, all of which I really like anyways, I think tomatoes specifically stand out as my personal favorites (carrots, peppers and cucumbers are pretty high up there too).  There is just something terribly satisfying about eating tomatoes.  Furthermore, as a very versatile vegetable, they have a lot of use in the kitchen.

My family always grew tomatoes while I was growing up, usually one or two plants, most often some kind of cherry variety.  Now that I have been doing some gardening myself (with Eliza) tomatoes have become an essential personal crop (we planted about 100 plants last year and about 80 this year).  With all of the different varieties there is a vast number of experience one can have from growing their own tomatoes.  The color and flavors of the fruits are very often far different that anything you’d likely experience from store-bought veggies.  Furthermore, there is this sense of pride and satisfaction in knowing that you have produced these tomatoes yourself.

My love of tomatoes, mixed with my desire for more variety was originally a pretty good reason for which I chose to grow my own plants.  However, in recent years, I feel that my reasons have more and more come to be for ethical reasons.

I have a number of concerns about the way that big agribusiness is maintained in this country.  While I appreciate the importance of making food widely available to a massive population, I feel that a lot of the traditional practices of agribusiness is unsustainable and environmentally harmful in the long run.  Growing my own vegetables, including tomatoes, allows me some ease of mind in achieving a degree of independence from a system that I do not entirely agree with.

But now I also have human rights concerns to add to the fray.  Mark Bittman has written a very interesting opinion article for The New York Times titled “The True Cost of Tomatoes” which highlights these human rights concerns as well as illustrating the environmental and sustainability issues.

From a personal and moral perspective I have a very hard time supporting any industry that allows for human right violations.  I feel strongly that there is no excuse for these abuses against other living people.  If that means that I have to pay more out of my pocket to assure that my purchases are coming from an ethical practice then so be it.  As far as I am concerned the maintaining of human rights and dignity is of much higher moral importance than keeping any product cheap.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the difficulty of making ends meet in this world, and that sometimes it is a matter of “what can I afford?”  But I do think that there are alternatives to supporting an unethical system.  In the case of tomatoes that alternative comes to me in the form of growing my own.

Eliza and I keep our gardening organic and we try to only support seed companies that have good reputations for how they cultivate and distribute their plant seeds.  Unquestionably there are challenges involved in growing your own food.  We have spent a ton of energy and time over the past several months working on our garden and even so there is still much that needs being done.  When one organic gardens you have to be willing to accept inevitable losses to pests and diseases (you can do practices that hopefully minimize these losses, but there will always still be some).  In the case of our tomatoes we have had several plants that are succumbing to fusarium wilt.  Undoubtedly some will not produce as well as others.  There is also the case that vegetables have very specific growing and producing seasons (in South Carolina we can usually expect to get tomatoes from our garden from July to sometime in October) and as such what does one do the rest of the year if they decide that they want a specific vegetable (in our case we try to dehydrate or can a lot of our excess produce for later usage)?

I think a part of taking an ethical and environmental stance on where our food comes from requires that we make the choice to adjust our demands and expectations.  For a long time, as Americans, many of us have lived with the idea that food should be quick and convenient and on demand.  I can appreciate wanting to control what we want and when we want it, but I think that this mindset is itself unsustainable and a contributing factor for possible unethical practices.  If we are individuals concerned with pursuing moral lifestyles then I think we should feel obligated to reconsider how we consume and demand the things that we eat.

As for now, I am happy that we decided to grow a lot of tomatoes.  Here’s hoping that I get a good harvest this year.

~ by Nathaniel on June 16, 2011.

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