COLUMBIA — The Missouri Pink Love apple, the Mortgage Lifter and the Purple Calabash may not be familiar names, but all three have a long history in American gardening.
These heirloom tomatoes are among 165 varieties that can be sampled from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday during the 10th annual Tomato Festival at Bradford Research Center.
The center's superintendent, Tim Reinbott, said he expects 700 to 1,000 visitors this year. Nearly 1,000 people attended the festival last year.
In addition to the tastings of tomatoes and 120 varieties of peppers, chefs from four local restaurants will participate in a tomato cook-off. Another 10 restaurants will offer samples from their menus.
New this year are wine tastings by the MU Grape and Wine Institute. Activities for kids include a corn maze, milk tasting and information stations.
Agriculture and horticulture experts will offer advice for disease and insect prevention. In addition, they will demonstrate grafting, a technique that involves combining good tomatoes of one plant with the strong roots of another.
It has been a good year for tomatoes at the educational facility, Reinbott said. For local growers, however, he said the season has been unstable.
"For the most part, it's been feast or famine," Reinbott said. The humid summer caused an increase in tomato plant diseases, something that hasn't happened in three years.
The Bradford Research Center is an educational facility and laboratory for MU students at the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
The goal of the annual Tomato Festival is to interest the community in agricultural research and education, Reinbott said. In addition to giving home gardeners suggestions for improving their plants, the rating system for the tomato tastings will help local farmers identify which kinds of tomatoes are popular among the community, he said.
"Tomatoes are something that appeal to people in so many different ways. There are a lot of products. If you don't like tomatoes, there's salsa. That's why tomatoes are so popular. They are versatile," Reinbott said.
Bradford Research Center is located at 4968 S. Rangeline Road, 11 miles from MU. A shuttle will pick up visitors parking along the driveway during the festival.