COLUMBIA - Dorothy Canote loves the details of growing vegetables - particularly how soil interacts with plants.
A retired biology teacher, Canote grew up working in the garden with her mother and grandmother and eventually continued the tradition with her own daughters.
"One of my fondest memories is being in the garden and growing things with my two daughters," Canote said. "It is very satisfying and rewarding to pass it on to my daughters. It provides a continuity from one generation to the next that I think is missing a lot now."
After retiring from teaching, Canote supplemented her retirement earnings by selling her vegetables at the Columbia Farmer's Market.
For her and other growers alike, the annual Tomato Festival provides an opportunity to learn from others' experiences in hopes of using the knowledge in their own gardens.
"We sat down about four years ago and said, ‘What's missing for people who do horticulture here in Columbia?' And we thought, ‘How about tomatoes?' So it started off with tomatoes and then we expanded to peppers and then salsa," the festival's superintendent Tim Reinbott said.
The festival, now in its fourth year, was held Thursday at the Branford Research and Extension Center. It had been scheduled to be outside under a tent, but rainy weather forced the event indoors. Expert growers gave tips on various topics, including plant breeding and managing problems in their gardens.
Those in attendance could also sample 40 different tomato and pepper varieties, along with various salsas, and then vote on which ones they liked best.
"The idea is everyone says, ‘I have the best tomato,'" expert grower James Quinn said. "So we took all the different varieties and planted them at the same time, in the same soil conditions and treated them all the same and then picked them at the same time so we could really compare them."
The Sun Gold and Sun Sugar cherry tomatoes won the awards for best tomatoes. It was the second year in a row where the Sun Sugar variety had taken the crown. As all the tomatoes were grown at the same location and by the same growers, there were no hard feelings, just people sharing their love for homegrown vegetables.
"You can really see that local growing is catching on with these farmer's markets all over the place," Canote said, "With the whole issue of global warming and sustainable growing, people see these as separate things, but this local growing helps to solve that and really provides a sense of community."