"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.

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

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