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  • Writer's pictureRick Burnette

Man Cannot Live by Tomatoes Alone

The current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the US food system, with the farm town of Immokalee right in the middle of the fall out.

Countless restaurants across the US have closed, or are experiencing reduced business, resulting in diminishing demand for Immokalee’s agricultural products, particularly tomatoes.

With a tomato glut, we are hearing reports of fields being abandoned and the harvested crop either dumped or fed to livestock. And with fewer tomatoes to harvest, there is less employment for Immokalee’s farmworkers.

The Immokalee tomato operations aren’t small family patches. The farms are enormous, requiring thousands of workers to tend and harvest the crop, which makes up 2/3rds of America’s wintertime tomato production, extending into the spring.

With farmworkers facing few harvesting jobs and reduced income, one might assume that the logical response would be to feed them the tomatoes. Believe me, we’ve heard this before.

Obviously, no one can tolerate or subsist on one crop for very long. And, most of Immokalee’s commercial tomatoes aren’t exactly gourmet fare as they are bred to be harvested green, shipped for long distances and then stored in coolers.

With local food banks feeling the strain of our current economic shock, Cultivate Abundance and Misión Peniel are working overtime to find a variety of fresh, nutritious food for our farmworker neighbors.

For optimal nutrition, our goal is to enable everyone to “eat the colors of the rainbow,” meaning to offer diverse types of fruit and vegetables that provide essential vitamins and minerals.

With the help of local gardens and farms, as well as the Misión Peniel garden, we are currently sourcing a variety of produce, including zucchini, lettuce, kale, sapodillas, citrus, bananas, black sapote, collard and mustard greens, eggplant and tomatoes – delicious, colorful, organic heirloom tomatoes.

We are grateful for our garden and other gardening and small farm partners, including ECHO, Covenant Presbyterian, First Presbyterian Lehigh Acres, Cornerstone Methodist (Naples), the HEART Global Village and 12 Seasons Farm, for producing and sharing the edible colors of the rainbow.

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