Plus, we’ll have sweet and savory tomato-based treats from Portland’s beloved Lauretta Jean’s bakery and the return of last summer’s smash hit, the Wellspent BLT!
The phrase “dry farming” sounds modern and innovative, but growing food without irrigation is nothing new. Humans started farming more than 10,000 years ago, mostly growing grains like wheat and barley. At some point, farmers along the Nile and in Mesopotamia diverted river water to their crops, which was likely the first use of irrigation.
In the Americas, the original farmers didn’t have large-seeded, easily cultivated grain crops. The indigenous practitioners of early agriculture in this part of the world grew what we call vegetables: mostly squash, beans, and corn (actually a grass, so really a grain). Sometime between 8000 and 5000 BC, farmers in the Andes domesticated the tomato, and the odds are good that it was dry farmed.
Nowadays most crops are irrigated. Yields are higher and more consistent, and thirsty vegetables better suited to temperate climes can be grown in the desert. But the changing climate means once-dependable water sources can no longer be counted on, and many farmers face the loss of irrigation rights as in-stream use for fish, increasingly lower river flows, and urban water use sucks up every last drop.
A return to the ancient technique of dry farming offers small farms an alternative. It requires the right soils and a different set of farm management techniques, but it holds the promise of a more sustainable future. And more tasty tomatoes. That’s where we need your help.
Growers working with Oregon State University researchers exploring dry-farming are trialing several tomato varieties to find out which grow well here in the PNW. Apart from suitability, they’re also doing research into taste, which is where you come in. OSU will have tomato tasting kits with easy instructions for tasting and reporting what you like and why, and your reviews will help small farmers choose the best tasting, and most sustainable, tomatoes for dry farming.
As soon as tomatoes became a staple of Italian kitchens, cooks wanted to have them all year long, and before canned tomatoes came along in the late 1800s, they relied on sun-dried tomatoes and tomato pastes.
But on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius south of Naples, farmers bred a tomato called pomodoro piennolo, also known as pommodro d’inverno. Its thick skin & low water content allows it to remain edible for months after harvest as long as it’s stored in a cool, dry space, and to this day you’ll see wreaths of piennolo tomatoes hanging from doorways and pergolas in parts of Italy all the way into December.
Now, local members of the Dry Farming Institute are growing piennolo tomatoes here in Oregon, as part of their storage tomato trial this season, and they’ll have some available for purchase this weekend.
In addition to the piennolo tomatoes, we’ll have multiple heirloom varieties from our farmer friends at Wild Roots Farm and Gathering Together Farm, including dry farmed varieties and a selection of cherry tomatoes, slicers and meaty specimens perfect for sauce.
We’re also offering a limited number of bulk tomatoes for pickup at our 2nd Annual Tomato Fest on Sunday September 11th. Choose from flats of cherry tomatoes (12 mixed pints per flat) or 10lb cases of mixed juicy heirlooms from our friends at Wild Roots Farms or 20lb cases of delicious slicers and romas from Gathering Together Farm.
Wellspent’s own Dennis Wald will be back on the grill and making the quintessential bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich so you can enjoy some immediate tomato goodness. They’ll be available without the bacon, too, and we’ll have cold beverages to wash ‘em down.
Plus, Portland legend Kate McMillen from Lauretta Jean’s is making up some special tomato-based sweet and savory goods to snack on! Rumor has it she’s even bringing some peach pie, which, while not tomato-based, is a summertime treat that we’ll gladly make an exception for.
Remove stems from cherry tomatoes and place into baking dishes.
Peel garlic and place one head of garlic into each baking dish. Throw in a healthy pinch of salt (at least a teaspoon). Add lots of olive oil – the general rule in our house is that the bottom layer of cherry tomatoes is at least halfway covered with oil. Toss it all together!
Roast in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes.Turn off the oven and DO NOT open the oven door. Allow cherry tomatoes to cool in the oven for at least 4 hours – this thickens them up.
Store in pint containers pureed in a good blender or whole. Enjoy all Winter as a pizza sauce, soup base, over pasta or thrown in a crock-pot roast. It really will brighten your cold, Winter day.