Episode 2 Behind the Scenes with Michael Kelly

I like to think that I’m a pretty good tomato grower but a visit to David Currid at Grantstown Tomatoes was enough to change my mind.  It was a jaw-droppingly impressive place for the show to visit at the height of tomato season. A place where tomatoes are grown on an unprecedented, 1-hectare scale and harvested by people hoisted up in cherry pickers.   While technology has a huge role to play in growing tomatoes at this level, the love of growing and passion for tomatoes was also clear.  It was brilliant to discover that at a basic level David Currid is a guy that just loves growing tomatoes.

I’ve been railing against the ubiquitous Dutch tomato for years. The soggy, bland sandwich filler is such a poor substitute for the real thing, that I generally avoid eating tomatoes at all when my own ones run out.  That changed a little when I discovered Grantstown tomatoes for sale in Ardkeen in all their deliciousness.  Not only do they grow really interesting and tasty varieties like the super-sweet Suntini, they also ripen them on the vine (rather than artificially ripening them in transit like many imported tomatoes). 

While my own tomatoes only start to harvest in July, the first crop of Grantstown tomatoes are on the shelves from April on.  By and large this is because David creates a slice of the Med on the Dunmore Road in Waterford, courtesy of massive glasshouses and natural gas to warm the place (CO2 emissions are harvested to enhance plant growth).  Since he can get them on to the shelves within a day or two of picking, he can also maximise the tomatoes’ freshness. 

Of course the purist in me would sniff at the idea of extending the seasons to this degree, but we also have to be realistic that this is what the market demands.  To compete in a modern food system, commercial Irish growers have to be able to meet the reliability and the price of the import.  By focusing on flavour rather than shelf life, a guy like David Currid has a shot of winning in a market where the odds are stacked against him.  As consumers we can help by buying Irish whenever they are available and (if you ask me), avoiding tomatoes altogether when the Irish crop is not in season.

Though I went there in search of lessons for the home-grower (which I found, in spades), it was outside one of the glasshouses that I found my real inspiration; a skip full of tomatoes discarded because they don’t meet our definition of fruit perfection.  Thankfully Grantstown are able to compost these down to get some use out of them but it highlights the needless creation of waste that is endemic in our food chain.

It’s still not too late to try growing some of your own tomatoes from seed this year, and of course you could cheat by buying a little tomato plant in a garden centre much later in the spring.  A healthy tomato plant will reward your efforts with delicious fresh tomatoes from July to October (sometimes November).  Once you’ve tasted them, you will never go back.