Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tomato Tasting

Yesterday, S and I drove down to Seed Savers Farm near Decorah, Iowa.  It was a long drive (almost three hours), but totally worth it.  The weather was gorgeous and cool-- just the first hint of fall.  The tomato tasting event was scheduled to start at 1pm, and we got there just a little after noon.  We had some time to tour the gardens.

Several varieties of sunflowers:
Giant sunflowers!!!

Some really tall corn, beans, herbs, and squash, among other things.
Is this a squash or a gourd?  I don't know.
Near where the tomato tasting would take place, there was a small folksy band, complete with violin/fiddle, accordion, guitar, and drums.
The band.
(Also many loud children playing in the sandbox and slide.)

Then, the tasting started.  Somewhere around 40 varieties of tomatoes, ranging in size from less than a centimeter in diameter to about six inches, and in colors including yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, black, green, and multicolored.

So many tomatoes!!!
At the head of the line, where they handed out tasting comment forms, pens, and seed saving tips, there was also this cool display:
I don't know this woman's name, but she was very friendly and helpful.
Some of my favorites were the Black Krim, a dark tomato from Russia with a really strong, sweet flavor, but not the typical sweetness you expect with tomatoes.  I can't even describe it, but I liked it.  I also enjoyed Dr. Wyche's Yellow (sweet and tangy) and the Velvet Red (a previous winner, cherry-sized).  At the end of the table, there were ballots to vote for your favorite; I voted for the Black Krim (which, incidentally, sounds like a great name for a pirate ship).

After we tasted, we took the 45 minute hayride around some of the outlying fields.  Our guide, Heidi, was very friendly and knowledgeable.

On the hayride, we got to see the compost heap (covered with blue fabric/tarp) and the diseased compost heap (well away from the usable one, not covered, smelled like compost).  It was very interesting to see the fields where they grow their crops-- those that are in danger of cross-pollinating with wild varieties are kept in tents to ensure the seeds will propagate true.  The tomatoes do not face this hazard.  This year, they're growing five varieties of tomatoes-- so many that they have them grow up fences instead of stakes.  It looks like a vineyard out there.

Surprisingly, Seed Savers sells absolutely zero produce.  All their crops are used for seed, which I suppose makes sense if your name is "Seed Savers".  But S and I wondered whether the staff ever just go out in the field for a snack.  At any rate, that's a lot of seeds to extract.

The hayride, while fun and informative, was not nearly as long or involved as S or I would have hoped.  But that left us time to explore a few last areas.  First, the livestock.  Seed Savers keeps heritage poultry and cattle:

This guy was making lots of noise.  Can you see the horns?
Sorry I couldn't get a better photo; these guys look crazy.  They've got big fluffy "headdresses" of feathers.  S didn't get why you would want a chicken to have that.
There was a nice herb garden near the visitor's center, as well as a giant old barn.
That's the visitor's center in the back.
View of the herb garden from the barn loft.
Finally, S and I took a short walk around the grounds.  There are some really neat trails to take around the property; alas, we only had time for the little loop around the pond.

All in all, a very fun trip.  Even driving there and back was fun-- we got to go through a bunch of tiny little towns we'd never heard of, and see all the pretty, just-on-the-brink-of-fall fields.

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