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Tomatoes offer taste of summer’s bounty

Tomatoes offer taste of summer’s bounty

Fortunately for hungry tomato lovers, fresh-market tomatoes are a multi-million-dollar business in Virginia.

During the 2018 growing season, the state's farmers harvested 2,000 acres of fresh-market tomatoes, generating more than $28 million in cash receipts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

America’s largest field tomato growers, Lipman Family Farms, has farms in Virginia, Florida, South Carolina and California. The company grows tomatoes on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where the majority of the state’s tomato crop originates.

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in home gardens, and heirloom tomatoes are the most popular heirloom vegetable.

“Most heirloom tomatoes have great flavor, and they are something that home gardeners can have great success growing,” said Chris Mullins, a fruit and vegetable specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension at Virginia State University.

Heirloom vegetables come from seeds that have been passed down from family member to family member or are hand-selected by gardeners for a special trait. They are open-pollinated, which means they’re pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention. Heirlooms are typically at least 50 years old and are often pre-World War II varieties. They tend to remain stable in their characteristics from one year to the next.

“Hybrid varieties have been through traditional breeding programs where traits have been selected for them,” Mullins said. “Some varieties are bred for fruit color, ability to ship well, flavor characteristics and disease resistance, whereas heirloom varieties do not have that.”