tomatoes: a dilemma

We have just started picking tomatoes from our own tunnels. After years in search of a variety that passes the taste-test we have settled, mainly, on the cherry tomato; Favourita. Our season will run through to early October, when the quality declines rapidly with dropping light levels.

Under glass (rather than plastic) it might be possible to start picking by mid-June but to get any earlier the only answer is to use heat, or go further south. I am delighted that food miles have now become such a potent issue, but it is not as simple as plainly saying local, organic (good) versus imported, non-organic tomatoes (bad). The unpalatable truth is that local, organic, hot-house tomatoes are an environmental disaster. These tomatoes are planted out in January and consume huge quantities of fossil fuels to keep them growing, in un-insulated, ventilated glass, through the winter and spring and then again into the early winter. Organic may even be worse than conventional because it produces less fruit per square metre (and therefore per joule of energy) and requires more ventilation (and therefore energy) to control fungal disease.

I strongly suspect that, in purely environmental terms, tomatoes trucked from Spain or Italy would win hands down and non-organic may well beat organic. Of course it would be best if we just ate them in season from July to September; but in reality I doubt that many people would settle for this. Even then we would need more tunnels, which themselves have become contentious. We are starting an environmental audit of our activities, all the way from seed to plate, with Exeter University. The results will help guide us in this sort of decision. I am expecting the conclusions, as with so many things, to point towards pragmatic compromise rather than dogmatic, hardcore fundamentalism.

Sort of a plug

Earlier in the year I was asked to write an article charting the history of the farm and business for Resurgence Magazine. We have added the article to the news section of our website so you can read it for yourself. The current editor, Satish Kumar, started Resurgence 40 years ago. The magazine is not an easy read and, at times, verges on a type of academic pomposity, which I find irritating. Even so I would commend it to those of you who like a thoughtful read. It gives a wonderfully reflective and original insight into the big environmental and social issues we face, from some of the world's most independent thinkers. Best of all, unlike so many campaigning publications it is not partisan or reactionary and does not leave you in need of anti-depressants.

Guy Watson