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8 "Breaking Down a Tomato" by Justin Butts

(c) Justin Butts
Farming methods can raise or lower the nutritional value of produce. Planting techniques influence health. We can see this by following a tomato through a large-scale conventional farm compared to a tomato grown in your own backyard garden.

On large-scale farms, tomatoes are fertilized with synthetic chemicals. These chemicals cover the basic NPK requirements for plants, but often fail to replace the micronutrients that tomatoes demand from the soil. In your garden, your own homemade compost builds healthy humus-rich soil that replenishes the full profile of vitamins and minerals that your plants require. If the nutrients are not available in the soil, they can’t be taken up by the plant and delivered to the fruit.

On large-scale farms, growers select tomato varieties that ripen quickly and simultaneously for ease of machine harvesting. These fast-growing varieties can actually outpace the ability of the plant’s root system to absorb nutrients from the soil. Big farms also select for varieties that produce large, roughly square-shaped tomatoes. These square-shaped tomatoes fit more easily into packing containers and thereby reduce transportation costs. In your garden, tomato varieties are chosen primarily for health and flavor.

On large-scale farms, tomatoes are picked unripe, before vitamins, minerals, and lycopene are fully maximized in the fruit. Once tomatoes are harvested, they stop absorbing lycopene. Lycopene is an anti-oxidant, and we want the highest dose of this cancer-fighting compound in every bite of tomato. In your garden, tomatoes are picked ripe and red on the vine with the maximum concentration of lycopene fully developed in the fruit.

Potassium is an essential mineral in plant health, and it is critical to human health as well. The best way for people to get potassium is through their food, and the best way for plants to get this mineral is from the soil.

On large-scale farms, the plants themselves are treated with industrial applications of potassium. In your garden, potassium and other minerals are added to the soil through compost and homemade wood ash—the ideal source for plants.

Moreover, the sweetness of a tomato—actually, the flavor of any fruit or vegetable—is the result of potassium. Potassium molecules unlock the sugars in plants, and when more natural potassium is available in the soil, more sweetness develops in the fruit.

It is easy to taste the difference in your own ripe, red, freshly-picked tomatoes, but the differences in health are just as great, and just as important. And your own garden is the perfect place to get the sweetest taste, and the greatest health, from your produce.

Justin Butts is a local farmer and business owner of Four String Farm in Rockport! Thank you for sharing this, Justin!



Wow really good info. Thank Justin. I guess I always assumed a tomato was a tomato!....Who knew! Again, thank you! - Betsy


Hello Justin. I hope you don't mind a random question. I just started gardening and I once heard you could use coffee in the garden. Specifically, I was told it was good to use with tomatoes. Can you suggest what's the best way to implement it into my garden, if ever? Thank you much. - Aubrey


Interesting bit about the lycopene. On TV I'm always seeing how they pick produce so early so they can get them into the stores when "ripe". Always looking for proactive ways to fight cancer and illness!!! THNX!!


Hello Aubrey! Coffee grounds are great for the garden! Coffee grounds contain a lot of nitrogen, which is great for plants, tomatoes especially--but be careful how you apply the grounds.

Coffee grounds are slightly acidic. If you place a large amount of fresh coffee grounds around your plants, you may stress the plants and stunt their growth. Our sandy soil is already slightly acidic, so any acidic soil amendments should be added slowly and slightly over time. Also, because of their high nitrogen content, coffee grounds are considered a "hot" fertilizer, which means they could add more nitrogen at one time than the plants would like, and this can burn the plants and stunt growth.

The perfect place for coffee grounds is in your compost pile. The nitrogen in coffee grounds will help heat up the pile quickly to break down leaves and other carbon-dense materials. Also, the acidity of the coffee grounds will neutralize in the pile, but help create compost that is just slightly acidic, which is good. On our farm, we actually save all of our coffee grounds and feed them to our chickens! The chickens LOVE coffee grounds, and they help make very delicious eggs. Also, the coffee grounds "compost" inside the hens, and the manure from the hens is a very good and powerful fertilizer.

Thanks so much for your question Aubrey! Have a wonderful day! Justin


Hello Betsy! I always thought that taste was the big difference between what someone grows in the garden compared to conventional generic produce. But there are big differences in health too! I am wishing you the very best Betsy! Have a great day!


Hello Sherrie! Thank you so much for your comment, have a wonderful day! Justin


Oh your picture looks like a heart! Was that on purpose? Perfect! :-) Mary


Hello Mary! That does look like a heart! What a great observation, I had not noticed that!

In that picture, I asked Kayla to hold out her hands and then I kept piling up tomatoes precariously to take a picture, but many would fall off. Finally we settled on that amount of tomatoes, because that was all she could hold! Thank you so much Mary, have a wonderful day!

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