Don’t Eat the Tomatoes – Unless You Grow Them Yourself

In The Indignity of Industrial Tomatoes, Barry Estabrook says that industrial tomatoes are tasteless, indestructible and picked by literal slaves.

If you have ever eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or restaurant, chances are good that you have eaten a tomato much like the ones aboard that truck. Florida alone accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes raised in the United States, and from October to June, virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes in the country come from the Sunshine State, which ships more than one billion pounds every year. It takes a tough tomato to stand up to the indignity of such industrial scale farming, so most Florida tomatoes are bred for hardness, picked when still firm and green (the merest trace of pink is taboo), and artificially gassed with ethylene in warehouses until they acquire the rosy red skin tones of a ripe tomato.

Florida alone accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes raised in the United States, and from October to June, virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes in the country come from the Sunshine State, which ships more than one billion pounds every year. It takes a tough tomato to stand up to the indignity of such industrial scale farming, so most Florida tomatoes are bred for hardness, picked when still firm and green (the merest trace of pink is taboo), and artificially gassed with ethylene in warehouses until they acquire the rosy red skin tones of a ripe tomato.

Today's industrial tomatoes are as bereft of nutrition as they are of flavor. According to analyses conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fresh tomatoes today have 30 percent less vitamin C, 30 percent less thiamin, 19 percent less niacin, and 62 percent less calcium than they did in the 1960s. But the modern tomato does shame its 1960s counterpart in one area: It contains fourteen times as much sodium.

Tomatoes' wild ancestors came from the coastal deserts of northern Peru and southern Ecuador, some of the driest places on earth. When forced to struggle in the wilting humidity of Florida, tomatoes become vulnerable to all manner of fungal diseases. Hordes of voracious hoppers, beetles, and worms chomp on their roots, stems, leaves, and fruit. And although Florida's sandy soil makes for great beaches, it is devoid of plant nutrients. To get a successful crop, they pump the sand full of chemical fertilizers and can blast the plants with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides, including some of the most toxic in agribusiness's arsenal.

Pesticides, so toxic to humans and so bad for the environment that they are banned outright for most crops, are routinely sprayed on virtually every Florida tomato field, and in too many cases, sprayed directly on workers, despite federally mandated periods when fields are supposed to remain empty after chemical application. All of this is happening in plain view, but out of sight, only a half-hour's drive from one of the wealthiest areas in the United States with its estate homes, beachfront condominiums, and gated golf communities. Meanwhile, tomatoes, once one of the most alluring fruits in our culinary repertoire, have become hard green balls that can easily survive a fall onto an interstate highway. Gassed to an appealing red, they inspire gastronomic fantasies despite all evidence to the contrary. It's a world we've all made, and one we can fix. Welcome to Tomatoland.

Here's a tomato from our garden.

tomato from

Ann’s Garden: The Transition from Cool to Warm Weather Plants

On April 21, the collards and kale are tall and flowering. They've been nutritious and tasty.

On April 29, the collards and kale have been removed and the trellises are ready for tomato plants to climb.

I'm the trellis "engineer." These custom trellises are not decorative but they can be reused each year and can withstand severe thunderstorms with hundreds of pounds of tomatoes on board.

My Four Food Groups

In my world, there are four food groups:

  1. Food that tastes bad and is bad for you.
  2. Food that tastes good and is bad for you.
  3. Food that tastes bad and is good for you.
  4. Food that tastes good and is good for you.

Food that tastes bad and is bad for you must be avoided. Often, it's the spoiled stuff that gives you the "stomach flu." It's fairly easy to avoid if you pay attention to the smell and taste. No one eats it knowingly.


Food that tastes good and is bad for you is the most dangerous food. It's addictive and fun to eat. Most food ads on TV feature this kind of fare. It keeps the hospitals filled and the pharmacies busy. Fast food is the perfect example; it you want to see the effects, watch the movie Super Size Me. It's very hard to stop eating this food once you start because it is engineered to use salt, sugar, and/or fat to stroke your pleasure centers in the brain.

Food that tastes bad and is good for you is what is available at many "hippie" health food stores. Fresh tofu, bean sprouts, and wheatgrass juice are examples. Most Americans are so accustomed to commercial food that tastes "good" that they can't eat it. Many of the people who eat from this food group are skinny. They are rarely seen and may become extinct.

Food that tastes good and is good for youis the holy grail for healthy eaters. Whole Foods and Trader Joes are making big profits selling this kind of fare. We have a garden, which is the best place to get food that is good for you because you know how it was grown (one of the great advantages of locally grown food). Some of it doesn't taste good to the people who eat only processed and packaged food. Fortunately for me, my wife Ann can take food that doesn't taste good and is good for you and convert it into food that tastes good in her kitchen.

Photos from Ann's garden at 

Gardeners: Earthworms are very Beneficial for the Soil in your Garden

Pesticides and herbicides kill good bugs as well as the bad bugs. That is one of many reasons why industrial agriculture is unsustainable. John Michael Greer describes the role of the earthworm in this excerpt from Animals I: Birds, Bats, and Bumblebees.

A garden is an ecosystem managed in such a way that human beings get to eat a significant fraction of the net primary production of the plants that grow there. Net primary production? That’s the amount of energy each year that the plants in a given ecosystem take in from the Sun and store in the form of sugars and other compounds that can be eaten by some other living thing. Everything other than plants in any ecosystem gets its fuel from the net primary production of that ecosystem, or of another ecosystem that feeds energy into it.

You’re not going to get anything close to a majority of the net primary production of your garden onto your dinner table, by the way, and it’s a mistake to try; if you do, you’ll starve other living things that depend on a share of net primary production to keep their own dinner tables stocked, and you need these other living things in order to have a healthy and productive garden. (Ignoring this latter point is one of the critical errors of today’s industrial agriculture.) Your goal instead is to make sure that as much of the net primary production diverted from your table as possible goes to living things that earn their keep by doing something for your benefit.

Here’s an example. A certain amount of each year’s net primary production from your garden goes to feed earthworms. Any gardener with the brains the gods gave geese won’t grudge them their share, because earthworms break down organic matter into forms plants can use, and they improve the texture and drainage of soil as they do it. Charles Darwin – yes, that Charles Darwin – wrote a brilliant and too often neglected book on the role of earthworms in the creation of topsoil; what he found, to drastically simplify a classic piece of ecological research, is that earthworms are topsoil-making machines, and the more you’ve got, the better your soil and the higher your crop yields will tend to be.

The Cultural Conservers Foundation at

The mission of the Cultural Conservers Foundation is to support the conservation of the cultural heritage of the past and present by:

  • educating the public about the value and importance of cultural conservation
  • giving cultural conservation a presence and voice in the collective conversation of our time
  • assisting aspiring cultural conservers to plan and accomplish projects for the conservation of cultural resources
  • providing networking tools that cultural conservers can use to pool their knowledge and experiences
  • fostering the transmission of cultural heritage to learners and to the future

For more information on the vision and purpose of the Cultural Conservers Foundation, please see this article: Cultural Conservers.

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Nature’s Revenge – the White Oak Strikes

White Oak Falls On Deer Fence

Last Sunday we decided it was time to cut down the beautiful White Oak beside our garden. We had postponed this action for several years, pruning this tree that we loved rather than cutting it down. It had grown quite large and was shading the garden from the afternoon sun. Our garden produced significantly less last year due the shading.

With the help of neighbor Chris on the chain saw, the butchery began. The strong wind out of the west was discussed but not heeded. Chris made the appropriate cuts to get the tree to fall towards the southeast, into the yard. It wouldn't fall. Chris kept cutting – finally, the tree fell directly west, crushing the deer fence and smashing some raised beds in the garden.

The tree didn't go out quietly on this sad day.

White Oak Falls On Deer Fence

You can read Ann's description here:

Permaculture: A Guide to Sustainable Living

Holmgren's 12 design principles of permaculture

These restatements of the principles of permaculture appear in David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability:

  1. Observe and interact – By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy – By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield – Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback – We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services – Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste – By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details – By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions – Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity – Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal – The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change – We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.