It's looking like a bumper crop of tomatoes will ripen just in time for the annual Tomato Festival on Thursday at MU's Bradford Research and Extension Center.
"We're just starting to peak right now," said Tim Reinbott, superintendent at the research center. "We all got planted late and didn't have a hot summer until now.
WHEN: 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Bradford Research and Extension Center, 4968 Rangeline Road. Directions available on the Bradford center website.
- There will be more than 200 varieties of tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos for visitors to sample.
- Speakers from MU and Lincoln University will lecture about tomato varieties and management, diseases and insects and the "wonderful world of chilies," and they will give presentations in the tomato patch.
- 13 restaurants will be in attendance, bearing salsa and other dishes.
- Half a dozen local chefs will cook up a dish using ingredients from the research center.
ADMISSION: Free and open to the public.
"It's much better than last year. Last year was so hot that we had a lot of tomatoes come in early."
Reinbott anticipates that about 600 people will attend this year's festival, similar to the turnout in years past.
Putting on the Tomato Festival is a large undertaking that depends on research center employees, volunteers from the MU Master Gardener program and students to succeed.
"We started working on this last January," Reinbott said.
The festival was conceived nine years ago, Reinbott said, at the suggestion of home gardening icon James "Jim" Wilson, a prolific author and gardener who co-hosted "The Victory Garden" on PBS. Wilson earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture from MU in 1948 and died in 2010.
The festival began with 25 tomato varieties. This year, 168 garden and heirloom varieties were planted, and about 150 will be available at the festival along with about 100 varieties of peppers.
As the Tomato Festival has grown, so has Columbia's appetite for heirloom tomatoes.
The Veggie Patch has been selling heirloom tomatoes since 1995, Eddie Dotson said Thursday at the Columbia Farmers Market. Heirlooms have become more popular as customers become accustomed to their unusual appearance, Dotson said.
The Veggie Patch grows between 30 and 35 varieties of tomatoes, with names such as Big Rainbow, Copious, Green Zebra and Mr. Stripey.
"The tomatoes range from a citrus taste to a sweet taste to a really deep earthy taste," Dotson said.
Visitors at the festival will be able to taste and rank the produce. In recent years, tomatillos have been a crowd favorite, as have Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, Reinbott said. Each variety will also have a card describing the plant and indicating where the research center acquired the seeds.
Produce from the center goes to MU's Campus Dining Services and the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. Campus Dining Services in turn sends food waste back to the research center, where it is composted and used to grow more vegetables.