Tomatoes - A Love Story
by Gary Ibsen
In the course of communicating by letter and email with gardeners around the world as their "gardening friend, I have been entrusted with a legacy of tomato gardening stories. I call them "Tomato Love Stories" because they come from the heart, and are shared from the heart. Some of the stories are told in laughter, some are shared in tears of joy, they are all...treasured memories or creations from inspiration.
I recall times of being approached by folks in the marketplace while I was sharing tastes of our heirloom tomatoes. And witnessing how the tasting of some the tomatoes released a forgotten memory...kind of like when you go to a place where you were raised as a child, and breathe in the fragrance of that unique gathering of flower, tree, or neighborhood that can open you...open memories of your childhood that had been tucked away. I'd watch a face change in front of me, as if they were held captive by the memory...and then I'd hear sharing like, "I remember being in my father's tomato garden," and "I've never tasted a tomato as good as the ones I ate in my Aunt Ginny's Garden when I was 10," and "I'm hoping to find here a tomato that tastes as good as the one I tasted once in a farmer's market as a college kid when I met my wife-to-be."
When this occurs, I generally smile knowingly and assure them that "will never find a tomato that tastes as good as that one you have associated with the loves of your life. That tomato experience will remain unchallenged for the treasured place it holds in you. However, ...try this one."
There are stories shared with me that have had me in tears and chuckles and always had me flush with gratitude for the sharing. Like the one I received last year from an older man who lived in the backwoods of the Ozarks. He was dieing of cancer and accepted his leaving. His story launched with a request for tomato seed, was wanting to be told. This was to be the last tomato garden he was to plant. No more or less important than any of his tomato gardens. He shared of his father's garden and his grandfather's tomato garden, his gardening as a young man home from war, the garden he shared with his wife before she died...and how these tomato gardens had enriched his life and given him 'home.'. Aside from the tomato varieties he had seen planted for generations, he now wanted to try some new tomato varieties...some new flavors.
It was while freshly touched with one of these stories, I decided I wanted to encourage the unfolding of other Tomato Love Stories that wanted to be shared... with other gardeners (and non-gardeners)...with friends who shared in the wonder and delight of growing tomatoes from seed and plant, or just in the tasting experience.
So, in 2003, I invited guests to TomatoFest.com to write me, in prose or poem, their personal favorite tomato story. I would read the stories with my family and choose 10 stories that I would award with tomato gardening gifts. The top award winners would be given tickets to the Carmel TomatoFest.
What follows is some of those Tomato Love Stories saved by me, to share with you. I've not edited any of the stories. They are here, just as they were shared with me.
I'll continue to share some of these with you in the future. - Gary Ibsen
The Tomato Love Stories
First Place Winner: 2008