tomato

Cherokee County-grown tomatoes will be celebrated June 8-9 during the 23rd Tomato Fest in Jacksonville, Progress photo by Don Wallace

Editor’s note: This is the second in a daily series of stories highlighting the June 8-9 Tomato Fest in Jacksonville.



By Raymond Billy

Assistanteditor@jacksonvilleprogress.com



Jacksonville was once known as the “tomato capital of the world” to many in Texas’ agricultural industry. That may have been hyperbole, but there is no question that the city’s tomato industry was robust.

The tomato industry was so significant in 1934 that when the first Tomato Festival was held that year, Time magazine covered it.

Recently, however, the tomato has taken a back seat to the toolbox, as construction and manufacturing have become the leading industries in Jacksonville.

So, as we embark upon our yearly celebration of the tomato, with the 23rd annual Tomato Festival approaching, just what is the status of Jacksonville’s tomato market? It is fine, thank you, at least according to the Texas Department of Agriculture's Assistant Commissioner of Communications, Brian Black.

“Jacksonville has always grown the best tomatoes because the soil is so sweet,” Black said.

Although he couldn’t provide raw numbers, Black said Jacksonville is at or near the top of Texas’ tomato market.

Wanda Guinn can attest to that. She runs Guinn Plant Farm with her husband, Jonny. The farm has been open for nearly 20 years and demand has remained steady throughout that period.

“Tomatoes are the number one product we harvest, peaches are second,” Guinn said. “Demand is always high for Jacksonville tomatoes.”

Guinn Plant Farm is definitely a family operation, with son Jonathan the primary supervisor of the tomato crop. He will participate in the Best Home Grown Tomato Contest and have a setup at the farmer’s market at the Tomato Fest.

But, so far, this has been an unusually tough season for the tomato industry in Jacksonville.

Production has slowed this year because of unseasonably cool weather in East Texas, causing damage to tomato crops. The ideal temperature to harvest tomatoes is about 70 degrees, but temperatures dipped below that level this spring with snow falling in April.

Wanda said that even though tomatoes are usually her hottest seller, it is also the most expensive to harvest, making this slowdown in production a costly expense.

So far, Wanda estimates that her plant farm has only broken even on tomatoes, but is optimistic about the summer months ahead.

“Demand for tomatoes peaks during the middle to later part of June, so I’m optimistic about the business as long as the weather behaves,” she said.

Black agrees that it is not necessarily panic time for tomato farmers.

“It’s way too early in the season to determine weather this is going to be an up or down season for tomato crops,” Black said.

One thing, however, is certain: in a good season, Jacksonville’s tomatoes are as good as any in the country.

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