Tiny Bridge Farm specializes in Hendersonville’s other round fruit
Every year since the founding of the Hendersonville Farmers Market, hungry customers and hardworking farmers alike celebrate Tomato Day — a day designed to mark the peak of the tomato harvest for the year.
While the tomato might seem like the most commonplace vegetable (it’s technically a fruit), “Tomato Day is really about expanding people’s palate by letting them try new things,” says Ed Graves, who runs Tiny Bridge Farm with his partner KP Whaley.
“We try to give out free tomato sandwiches that focus on the variety of what farmers are growing, and that’s a big draw,” says Whaley, who estimates that the Farmers Market averages between 800-1000 tomato sandwiches handed out during the day each year. “People from all over the region come to see what everyone has to offer.”
Tiny Bridge is an example of the diversity of the myriad farms represented at the market. A small organic vegetable farm growing for both market and CSA customers, they spread their focus across a wide range of crops to offer their supporters a good variety of produce throughout the growing season.
“Community Supported Agriculture farms have a lot more complexity because we try to grow a really diverse array — almost a full diet — of vegetables for our customers every week,” explains Graves. “So that means we bring 20 different vegetables to market.”
And that variety stretches into their tomato offerings, as well. While they always grow mainstay varietals like Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, and Mountain Girl, many of the tomatoes they’re producing this year are test varieties, bred to look like heirlooms but also designed to resist particularly threatening diseases and pests. (Whaley and Graves work closely with the USDA Agricultural Research Center to help test new breeds of tomatoes to see how they thrive.)
“They don’t even have names right now, they just have numbers associated with them,” says Graves. “So for the past few years, we will plant all of these heirloom varieties that are tried and true for our customers, and then on top of that we find space for these trials. And it’s really a crapshoot, because we don’t know how they’re going to end up … it’s really just research. Particularly for us, because there aren’t a lot of organic farmers in Henderson County, [the USDA] is really interested in how these trial varieties produce in an organic system.”
But unlike many farmers, the task of harvesting that produce has an added hoop to jump through for Whaley and Graves. “Our farm is a little bit different than a lot of other growers in the area, because we both still work full-time jobs,” reveals Graves, a librarian who manages five branches in Henderson County. (Whaley is the General Manager for the popular indie radio station Asheville FM.) “We work the farm super early in the morning, evenings, and weekends. So when tomatoes come in, we’re harvesting every single night, just to pick things at peak freshness. So I’m filling up the back of a pickup truck every night from the middle of July through September.”
The pair moved from Wisconsin to Hendersonville after Graves earned degrees in agriculture from University of Wisconsin, drawn to the region by the extended growing season. “We’ve had a passion around agriculture and food systems and food security for a long time,” says Whaley. “It’s really an extension of who we are. It’s about providing for the community and building the community.”
But, like everywhere else, that extended growing season doesn’t guarantee a good harvest. Increasingly unpredictable weather linked to climate change means the harvest, too, is increasingly unpredictable.
“This year has been great compared to a year like 2018, where there was a lot of flooding. There’s a lot of disease pressure with our humid summers, particularly with tomatoes,” Graves notes, while Whaley adds, “Last year was tough.” The tomatoes just wouldn’t grow. “We made it to Tomato Day, and then [the crop] was basically done after that.” But they both note that this year has been much easier on them, with the expectation of a great harvest.
“I can’t really say enough about the Hendersonville Farmers Market,” says Graves, referring to the venue’s expansion and rebranding last year to include more space for growers, artisans, and producers of homemade goods. “It’s really doing great things for the community.”
Tomato Day takes place Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Hendersonville Farmers Market, 650 Maple St. at the Historic Train Depot in the 7th Avenue District, from 8am-1pm. For more information, visit the venue’s Facebook page. For more information on Tiny Bridge Farm, see tinybridgefarm.com or call 802-747-8173.