Talking tomatoes

A tomato is a tomato, right?

Well, yes, but also definitely no says a Leamington area greenhouse grower.

Dean Tiessen of Pyramid Farms introduced a group of budding chefs to the breadth and depth of tomatoes on a recent tour of his farm by St. Clair College culinary students.

Pyramid Farms grows a variety of crops, including peppers, cucumbers and even miscanthus, a specialty grass that Tiessens use to heat their greenhouses.

But the star attraction is the tomato – specifically, the 26 varieties of heirloom tomatoes grown at Pyramid Farms.

Although the focus for tomato growers for decades was to boost production, a change has happened over the last couple years, one that introduced specialty crops and varieties like heirlooms into Ontario’s greenhouses.

Heirlooms are varieties that, until recently, were no longer grown on a large scale.

But increased consumer interest in food flavours, characteristics and that elusive search for “something different” has led to a resurgence of long forgotten varieties.

The students were surprised yet fascinated to discover that tomatoes come in all different shapes, sizes and colours – one even with zebra stripes!

They were also introduced to concepts like integrated pest management, farmers’ environmental efforts, the importance of economics in food production and the fact that despite the negative media attention tomatoes garnered earlier this year with a food safety scare in the US, most of Ontario’s tomatoes are grown right here at home.

The tour was part of an ongoing program that AGCare and the Ontario Farm Animal Council offer to various culinary schools as a way of introducing the next generation of chefs to the bounty of Ontario food, where it comes from and how it is produced.

Funding for the project is provided through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s CanAdvance program, which is administered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council in Ontario.

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