Mad for Tomatoes

Jon Strom and Kelley Hurst. Photo by Naomi Johnson.

Jon Strom and Kelley Hurst. Photo by Naomi Johnson.

Maybe you can tell that farmer Jon Strom is about to get married by the way he talks about growing tomatoes. As Strom tells it, tomato cultivation is half sensual pleasure, half worthy challenge. “I could almost compare it to a relationship with a woman,” he says, and goes on to rhapsodize on tomatoes’ infinite variety and their magical vigor. And, yes, it can be difficult — but so worth it. “I can definitely say there have been times I’ve felt defeated by tomatoes. But the next year I come back and try again.”

Strom, who runs Morningside CSA in Brevard alongside fiancee Kelley Hurst, isn’t the first to feel this way — the French, after all, call tomatoes pommes d’amour, or love apples — and at this point in the summer, I think a lot of us are feeling the same way. Ripe heirloom tomatoes at the tailgate market mean summer has truly arrived, and the first fruits of the season taste like a celebration of nature’s gifts.

But those gifts are hard-won. In this region, growing heirlooms and less-sturdy hybrids can be tricky. In Brevard, says Strom, heavy rainfall can cause many fragile varieties to split — sometimes with as little as a single downpour. And in Henderson County, the recent spell of record heat has decimated many growers’ second plantings.

Still, the growers keep at it, like you do when you’re passionate about something. In the coming weeks, Morningside CSA customers can expect beefy German Johnsons and sweet Sungold cherry tomatoes in their weekly boxes. Strom is also experimenting with another 15 heirloom varieties, hoping for some that will succeed in Brevard’s ultra-rainy microclimate. “If I was just growing for myself,” he says, “I’d grow Cherokee Purple and an Eastern European variety called Moskvitch,” for maximum deliciousness — but he doesn’t know yet which varieties will stand up to the rigors of production. But tomato love keeps pushing him onward. As he puts it, “There’s something about it that just feels so right.”

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