The Arkansas Times crew gathered at publisher Alan Leveritt's plantation near Otto last night to eat what could be salvaged from his normally world-class crop of organically grown heirloom tomatoes. A groaning-board potluck and a couple of hundred pounds of pig meat slow-smoked to melting tender by David Koon offset our disappointment that succulent Brandywines and other favorites were MIA this year. Shriveled tomato plants (and fruitless bean plants) were mute testimony to a tough summer for farmers.
Arkansas is not alone in tomato sorrow this year.
Check this interesting article in today's New York Times about the blight that has ravaged tomato crops in the Northeast as well. An uncommonly wet summer is part of the problem, as it is here. But also:
According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South and distributed them throughout the Northeast. (Fungal spores, which can travel up to 40 miles, may also have been dispersed in transit.) Once those infected starter plants arrived at the stores, they were purchased and planted, transferring their pathogens like tiny Trojan horses into backyard and community gardens. Perhaps this is why the Northeast was hit so viciously: instead of being spread through large farms, the blight sneaked through lots of little gardens, enabling it to escape the attention of the people who track plant diseases.
A rise in home gardening is said to have helped spread the nasty stuff. Call it the South's revenge.