How We Grow
We invite you to take a virtual tour of a tomato farming operation and learn how the tomatoes you enjoy at home are grown and harvested.
While it takes only about ninety days from the time a tomato is planted to the first harvest, planning begins many months earlier. Growers conduct assessments of the land to be farmed and that of surrounding area. Not all farmland is ideal for tomatoes. Given the increasingly urban encroachment in many areas of California, growers strive to keep the farmland they are able to grow in the best condition possible. California Tomato Farmers further improve the soil by incorporating cover crops into their production.
Unlike many farmers, we’re using “low or no till” production, which helps to maintain soil health and reduces or eliminates dust emissions into the air. And as the tiny tomato transplant, about the same size you’d purchase at your nursery, goes into the ground, we are now 90 days away from harvest.
Growing tomatoes on drip irrigation, as most of our tomatoes are, allows optimum plant health with the right balance of nutrition. And, because water is applied only to the plant, we don’t need to rely on herbicides to control weeds. Tomatoes grow rapidly at this time; but tomatoes don’t like extreme heat or extreme cold. California’s warm and dry conditions produce optimum quality through the season (May – November).
Daily, throughout the three month growing process, the tomatoes are checked to ensure they’re nutritionally balanced and that any pests are being controlled by beneficial insects. If pests threaten the crop, growers use the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program for fresh tomatoes, which relies on pesticides only in the event of a possible crop failure.
A week prior to harvest, the entire field is checked for any food safety threat that would prohibit the crop from being harvested. USDA’s appointed auditors will audit the grower and the farm to ensure that all steps of the comprehensive Food Safety Policy and Auditing Protocol for the Fresh Tomato Supply Chain have been met.
Tomatoes are harvested based upon market demands. Retailers and foodservice demand tomatoes be blemish free. Upwards of 30 percent of all tomatoes are tilled back into the soil, to help build the solid nutritive value for the next year’s crop. At the packinghouse, tomatoes are washed using chlorinated hot water, to remove any direct or foreign materials that may adhere to the tomato surface. Tomatoes are separated by grade, size and colour, and are always handpicked, and hand-graded.
USDA’s appointed auditors are at the packinghouse monitoring food safety programs at regular intervals during the harvest. And, constant monitoring by company management assures that quality is always the foundation of the product marketed by California Tomato Farmer members.
California Tomato Farmers is a cooperative of multi-generational farming families who have been growing tomatoes for more than 80 years and take pride in their product. A commitment to caring for the land is what has made it possible for members to pass the land down from one generation to the next, leaving the land in as good or better shape from when they started farming.