Can you Trust a Tomato in January?

'Preferred Produce in Deminggrows flavorful tomatoes andother produce year-round... even in January'

Date April 3, 2013 at 12:06 PM

Author Mary Schmidt

Publication Green Fire Times

Categories Community Green Living

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"Can You Trust A Tomato in January?" a book by Vince Staten, takes us on a tour of the U.S. supermarket—the good, the bad, the ugly. Those blemish-free tomatoes piled high at your local market? All kinds of dastardly things may have been done to them so they look good... though they taste like cardboard. So, no, until recently we couldn’t trust a tomato in January (or many other months of the year).

However, Preferred Produce in Deming, New Mexico, founded by Matthew Stong, Ph.D., grows flavorful organic tomatoes and other produce year-round. They are one of only eight large-scale commercial organic greenhouse operations in the U.S. , and you can find their trustworthy, USDA-certified organic produce at Whole Foods and La Montañita Co-Op, as well as farmers’ markets across southern New Mexico and in El Paso. (Home delivery is available online at www.preferredproduce.us. Box prices start at $20. The produce—tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetable— picked ripe to ensure maximum nutrition and flavor, is shipped within two days of harvest.) Preferred Produce also partners with other organic producers to offer additional selections, such as free-range eggs.

Of course, “going organic” often gets a bad rap as being too expensive. However, as Stong explains, it’s more the case that we can’t afford not to buy organic produce. “If you read the labels on the pesticides used on conventional produce, you would see how detrimental these poisons are to humans. In fact, eating non-organic increases your exposure to pesticides by 81 percent.” Then there’s the “cocktail effect” of exposure to several pesticides, say, from a single tomato. Conventional crops are typically sprayed with a variety of pesticides, which increases consumer exposure to a wider range of poisons.

But, just as we once didn’t believe disease could be carried by germs we couldn’t see, we can’t see the pesticides on (and in) our food. So, for many, organic seems like a nice idea, but that conventionally grown tomato looks so harmless.

On the vendor side, change is often difficult. After several years of trying to work with larger, established organizations and finding little support, Stong started looking around New Mexico for a farm site. He chose Deming to start Preferred Produce because of the county government’s supportive attitude and willingness to work with him.

Today, Preferred Produce is a reality, with patent-pending, state-of-the-art greenhouses that use renewable energy for heating and cooling. The greenhouses also recycle water and harvest nutrients used to create fertilizer blends. In total, the operations have a negative carbon footprint in that they use more carbon (the plants absorb carbonto grow) than they emit.

Buying organic produce that has traveled thousands of miles is problematic for conscientious shoppers, and Deming is quite a distance from any major city—hundreds rather thousands of miles—but still, the produce has to travel. An increasing number of people, “locavores,” want to buy local, but eating local can become pretty boring in say, January. That’s why Preferred Produce has global expansion plans.

Ultimately, they plan to locate their sustainable farms adjacent to major cities in the U.S., as well as in Europe and Asia. As a first step to making this vision a reality, the company recently obtained $200,000 through investments by New Mexico Community Capital (NMCC) and New Mexico Angels. This will enable Preferred Produce to expand their greenhouses in Deming. “Matthew’s vision of making organic produce affordable and accessible to millions of people fits nicely with New Mexico Community Capital’s mission,” said Leslie Elgood, NMCC CEO. “We look for investments with a triple-bottom-line return: dollars, jobs and community benefits.”

But, let’s assume you aren’t too concerned about pesticides. After all, we’ve been eating this stuff for years, and you give your tomatoes a good scrub before eating. Ah, then there’s nutrition. A two-year study led by John Reganold of Washington State University compared organic and conventional strawberry farms and found that the organic farms produced berries that were both more flavorable and nutritious. A report jointly produced by The Organic Center and professors from the University of Florida Department of Horticulture and Washington State University provides evidence that organic foods contain, on average, a 25-percent higher concentration of 11 nutrients than their conventional counterparts. “We live in a world where resources are becoming scarce and competition for their use is increasing,” Stong said. “It is time to maximum the nutrition while minimizing the depletion.” 

Mary Schmidt, marketing troubleshooter, helps entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality. She writes for fun and grows the occasional tomato. 505.856.2551 or mary@maryschmidt.com 

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