Mizzou’s annual Tomato Festival celebrates summer’s iconic fruit
Leslie Shaw, a horticulturalist at the Bradford center, begins to harvest tomatoes in preparation for the annual festival.
Is it safe to eat tomatoes, or isn’t it? Across the nation, people have been asking this question ever since word began to spread in June that some tomatoes were tainted with salmonella. Though the problem is now under control and the Food and Drug Administration warning about raw tomatoes has been lifted, you may still be feeling deprived of your summer tomato fix.
The fourth annual Tomato Festival, to be held at the University of Missouri’s Bradford Research and Extension Center Sept. 4, will help fix that. Beginning at 4 p.m., guests will have the chance to sample many of the 50 tomato and 34 pepper varieties the center’s staff planted this season. With names like Big Mama, Razzle Dazzle and Sunny Goliath, the tomatoes are sure to surprise attendees who don’t frequent farmers’ markets or tend their own heirloom tomato plants.
Visitors will be able to taste raw tomatoes and roasted peppers as well as salsas prepared by Campus Dining Services, Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant in Columbia and Copper Kettle in Ashland, Mo.
Green thumb training
Aside from introducing the public to new tomato and pepper cultivars, the free festival will provide educational opportunities and give gardeners inspiration for their own plots.
“The festival is a good way to showcase home gardening and to encourage people to garden,” says Leslie Shaw, a horticulturist at the Bradford center. Last year the event attracted more than 400 people, and organizers expect about the same again this year.
Four experts from MU and Lincoln University will give presentations on plant breeding, popular tomato varieties and problem management in the home garden, which is sure to be a hot topic given this year’s difficult growing conditions. The presentations will run simultaneously at 4:30 p.m. and repeat at 6:30 p.m. Master gardeners will also be on hand to answer visitors’ questions.
These grape tomatoes represent just one of 50 tomato varieties grown at the Bradford Research and Extension Center.
A difficult year
If you tried growing tomatoes in your home garden this year, you might have been a bit disappointed with the results. You are not alone. Central Missouri was particularly wet this summer, causing many headaches for gardeners — including those at the Bradford center.
“The moisture was a problem,” Shaw says. “We had a lot of rain and humid conditions that caused a lot of fungus.”
According to Shaw, Septoria leaf spot has given the Bradford center tomatoes a hard time this year. The fungal disease, which is very common in Missouri, can cause tomato plants’ leaves fall off, hampering fruit development and leaving the tomatoes vulnerable to the harsh sun. The tomatoes that thrived at the center this season will be available for sampling.
The Bradford Research and Extension Center is located in Columbia six miles east of U.S. 63 on Rangeline Road, two miles south of Route WW. While the festival officially doesn’t start until 4 p.m., early-arriving visitors can take a free wagon-ride tour of the farm between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
For an all-day garden experience, attend a free tour of the Mizzou Botanic Garden on the main campus, also on Sept. 4. The tour starts at 9:30 a.m., leaving from the Donald W. Reynolds Alumni Center. To reserve a spot and arrange free parking, call 573-884-7945 by Sept. 2.