One of the most famous farmers at New York's Union Square Greenmarket, Tim Stark, has written an honest and humorous account of how he went from a consulting job and an apartment in Brooklyn, NY to becoming a small farmer in Pennsylvania selling coveted heirloom tomatoes and peppers to some of the finest restaurants in New Your City. It's an unlikely tale and if you've ever considered leaving your day job for the romance of the farm, I'd highly recommend you read this book first.
One the other hand, if you think it can't be done, you will find Stark's story inspirational. Either way, it is an eye opener. A chance encounter with a dumpster full of old lumber leads to a make-shift grow light setup and too many heirloom seedlings for a brownstone rooftop. So it's off to his childhood home in Eckerton, PA and the journey begins.
With treks back and forth from Brooklyn to Pennsylvania, Stark starts small and naively, battling weeds, wildlife and exhaustion. His greatest strength is in the relationships he cultivates, especially among his Amish and Mennonite neighbors. Building slowly, buying more land and equipment and seeking help, Stark grows just about everything from asparagus to zucchini. But he makes his name selling heirloom tomatoes, back when no one else did. His tomatoes, and then his hot peppers, turned his Greenmarket stand into a destination. Chefs took notice and this truck farmer is now selling to some of the biggest names in the culinary world.
Sounds straightforward, but there really was no plan and Stark's memoir details his long learning curve, his lust for better equipment, the quest to find responsible help and an ambivalent encounter with a groundhog. There is also a wonderful cast of characters: Milt Miller, who spent his days circling on a riding mower, Stark's father who used the swimming pool for kayak drills, the sly locals at Zettlemoyers Auction Company and their handling of a Case 530 tractor and front-end loader, the Amish versus the Mennonites in a ‛friendly' game of cornerball, the Socrates of chile peppers, and the patient advise of his childhood friend James Weaver, who learned how to farm while Stark was using Milt Miller's apples as baseballs.
Along the way, you come to understand how this hard, yet simpler, way of life took hold of the author. It's the story of how a man found what he loved doing and put every ounce of himself into doing it. In "Heirloom" Stark did a wonderful job of painting his evolution from impulsive seed starter to becoming "the tomatoman".
- Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (July 2009)
- Format: Paperback , 240 pp pp (also available as an ebook)
- ISBN: 0767927079
- Retail Price: $14.00
Heirloom Tomatoes You Could GrowTim Stark certainly embraced diversity and grows dozens of varieties of heirloom tomatoes. If you'd like to try growing a sampler, here are a few of the tomatoes he mentions in his book:
- 'Brandywine' - A large indeterminate plant that produces 8-12 ounce red fruits with a rich, fresh tomato flavor. They are undeniably delicious, but they are not the most reliable variety and yields can be low. Introduced in 1889.
- 'Hillbilly' - Beautiful fruits with yellow shoulders and red mottling on the blossom end. Indeterminate plants bear a good sized yield of sweet, juicy 1 lb. beefsteak fruits.
- 'Persimmon' - An orange beefsteak with a tangy, tomato flavor. The 12-16 oz. fruits have few seeds and a smooth, meaty texture.
- 'Radiator Charlie's' (aka Mortgage Lifter) - Large, meaty 1-2 lb. reddish-pink beefsteak tomatoes grow on large indeterminate vines. Story has it that Charlie sold his tomatoes for a dollar a piece, to pay off his mortgage.
- 'Stupice' - This is a Czechoslovakia variety that is great for short seasons. The clusters of 2 inch fruits start ripening in 55 days from transplant and continue ripening throughout the summer. The plants are indeterminate, but not particularly large.
- 'Tiger Tom' - The small, 6 oz. fruits are streaked with orange-yellow stripes. They have a tart bite mellowed by a fresh sweetness that results in a refreshing flavor. ‛Tiger Tom' may be the same tomato as ‛Tigeralla' or ‛Mr. Stripey', all excellent tomatoes.
More Books About Tomatoes
- Book Review: 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden
- Book Review: The $64 Tomato - How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden, by William Alexander
- Book Review: Tomatoland - How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit