Tomato Festival opens community's eyes to vegetable varieties

Thursday, September 4, 2014 | 9:55 p.m. CDT; updated 6:40 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 5, 2014
The 10th annual Tomato Festival drew in more than 1,000 people to the Bradford Research Center on Thursday. Attendees could sample more than 270 varieties of tomatoes, as well as salsas and peppers.

COLUMBIA — Deep within hundreds of acres of farmland east of Columbia, farmers displayed more than 270 varieties of tomatoes and peppers for eager guests to taste Thursday evening.

The 10th annual Bradford Tomato Festival was held at the Bradford Research Center. Tim Reinbott, superintendent of the center, estimated that more than 1,000 people showed up to the festival.

Reinbott has coordinated the event since its 2005 inception. Reinbott has been interested in agriculture since he was young.

"We always had gardens, always had vegetables," Reinbott said. "Right before the first frost, we'd pick all the green tomatoes and my mom would make relish. So we've been doing this kind of stuff forever."

Reinbott planned the first festival with the agricultural community in Columbia in mind. He said the first festival had 25 varieties but that number grew over time, and he had more than expected this year.

"I thought, once we've got 120, we've got to keep going, so we've got 170 now," he said. "It really opens up the community's eyes to different types of tomatoes and peppers."

The festival also featured 101 varieties of peppers. All 271 varieties of tomatoes and peppers were available for tasting and rating at the festival.

Guest speakers offered insights on tomato farming to assist local farmers and community members alike. They gave talks about the types of nutrients and soil to use in gardens. Attendees were able to ask questions about problems they experienced in their personal gardens.

Among the gardeners was Columbia resident Dennis Bettenhausen. He took advantage of the tomato tasting to find varieties for his own garden. Bettenhausen attended the festival for the third year and has been growing his own vegetables for 25 years.

"I think it's a good asset for the growers and it's good public relations for the university," Bettenhausen said.

The center, run by the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the MU, is located 11 miles east of Columbia. The event promotes the university as well as many local businesses. This year, about 10  restaurants featured food samples at the event.

Daniel Huaco, owner of Carlito's Cabo in Columbia, offered samples of salsa and chips to festival attendees. Huaco said the festival provides an opportunity to promote his salsa, which is a family recipe.

"A lot of our customers come here," Huaco said. "They are always happy to see us."

Other attractions at this year's event included a kids corner and a wine-tasting event. The wine-tasting event was new this year, Reinbott said.

As far as the future of the festival is concerned, Reinbott would like to have even more variety.

"I think the next step would be to take this model and go for sweet corn or other types of foods," he said.

For now, tomato and pepper lovers alike can look forward to next year's festival.

Supervising editor is Bailey Otto.

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