Photo and article by Donna Iverson
When I go to a farmers market, the first vendors I look for are the Amish. These are people who know how to grow healthy food, especially if they advertise themselves as organic farmers.
In late spring, the Amish were missing from my closest farmers market and I missed their produce, their friendly manner and their wit. In one encounter, a young Amish man responded to my comment that I loved beans, with “Love is a pretty strong word for beans.”
So as I meandered down the rows of early spring vegetables, I stopped immediately at a table full of seedlings marked “Amish tomatoes.”
With no Amish produce for purchase, I decided to grow my own.
The small seedlings were transplanted to my community gardening bed in late April. Fellow gardeners told me it was too early and I might lose them. But in April of 2020, I needed to see something growing and especially something Amish. They represented survival, resilience and simple beauty. And lucky for me, they made it,
Once they started growing, I became curious. What made a tomato Amish and what exactly had I purchased?
As a college history major, I first checked their origin. According to Wikipedia, Amish tomatoes originated in the 1870s in the oldest Amish community in Wisconsin. Well, it wasn’t Michigan but it was a close neighbor.
An heirloom variety, Amish tomatoes are acorn shaped and grown for making tomato paste. They are thick of texture and have few seeds with a unique tangy sweet flavor.
Slow to ripen, they need about six hours of sunshine and like many heirlooms, are drought tolerant. Belonging to the indeterminate category, they grow quite tall and need strong support like cages or wooden stakes. Once they start to ripen, you will get a slow steady supply instead of one large harvest.
My first Amish tomato is just starting to ripen, as it has slowly turned from pale orange to a bright red. I am loath to pick it, as I enjoy seeing it beaming out from my garden bed as if greeting me with hope. So I leave it be for now, because hope is no small gift in the summer of 2020.