The Taste of Summer: Growing Heirloom Tomatoes in NC With Your Family


As summer comes to a close, so, too, does the season of fresh tomatoes. For a short few months, fresh, sun-ripened tomatoes are plentiful across the state, filling up backyards and farmers markets. That taste—so tart and sweet and fresh—is fleeting, though. It's perhaps one of the most accessible and loved seasonal vegetables around, but getting a really good tomato means eating seasonally and locally.

And if you, like many of us here, subscribe to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or frequent the Farmer's Market, you'll notice that tomatoes go far beyond that plain, plump, red little fruit. In recent years there's been a tremendous effort in North Carolina and the United States in general to reclaim heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes come in just about every shape and size you can imagine, and deliver a wide variety of tastes. From tart to mellow, from sweet to grassy, heirlooms teach us that biodiversity has an immediate impact on every part of how we taste and experience food.

When it comes to getting kids excited about growing food—an integral part of teaching them to learn how to eat healthy and understand how food grows—there's no better place to start than heirloom tomatoes. And it's not just because they're beautiful, though that's certainly a big part of it. While a "tomato" is exciting, even more so are the brilliant names behind the fruits: Mortgage lifter, Cherokee purple, Lollypop, Three Sisters, and Black Krim. Planting seeds in the early spring inside gives kids a chance to watch them sprout and grow. Then later, you can note the differences in leaves, height, and, at last, fruit and taste.

It's that moment that makes us all feel like kids again. Reaching out to the plant, grasping our fingers around the tomato—getting just a little resistance as we pull and—at last!--we pop it into our mouths. Warmed by the sun, fragrant like no other, and bursting with sweetness and acidity. It's okay that it's fleeting. It's okay that it can be a little hard work. Sharing that moment creates memories, and makes everyone proud to be part of something so special. That pride, and that knowledge, is at the heart of eating well and eating locally for a lifetime. And that, too, is one amazing gift to give.

Natania Barron is the Social Media Communications Specialist at BlueCross and BlueShield of North Carolina. Natania is also a food enthusiast.