Food News

Tomatoland: Barry Estabrook Describes Why Florida Sucks at Agriculture

Apparently, when it comes to agriculture and civil rights, Florida just can't do anything right.

In the new book, Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, journalist Barry Estabrook traces the history of the tomato and discusses the ecological and human costs of bringing it to your table. The tomato is America's second most popular fruit -- many of us eat it daily -- fresh, canned, or as tomato sauce, ketchup, salsa, or marinara sauce. The problem is that unless you get your tomatoes from Whole Foods or a farmer's market, it likely has little taste and was brought to you by the trampling of laborers' rights.

The mistreatment of laborer's deserves its own post, so I'll concentrate on the other problem here -- a pointed lack of flavor in the modern tomato.

Estabrook revealed to Salon why our tomatoes are tasteless.

A tomato grower said to me: "Barry, I don't get paid a cent for flavor, not one cent. I get paid for weight." The horticulturists I talked to all agreed that over the past 50 years or so, commercial tomato breeding has been geared towards increasing weight. To do that, farmers need to grow quickly, and their product must resist disease. So, the genes that give tomatoes the wonderful flavor of a summer tomato from your garden or farmer's market have simply been lost in commercial breeding.

​A lot of this is Florida's fault; we grow tomatoes in sand.

The agricultural officials would like to call it sandy soil, but it's sand, every bit as sandy as Daytona Beach. Florida is the worst place in the world to grow a crop of tomatoes. It never gets winters, so bugs are present year-round, it's notoriously humid, and fungi thrive. Everything in the ground is killed before the tomatoes are planted. Florida tomatoes live off fertilizers and chemicals injected into the soil. Like broiler chickens, When these tomatoes are picked, they're absolutely green and hard. They're still hard by the time they get to the grocery store, but by then, they're also orange. They're called "mature greens." The slang for them is "gas greens."
At least we have options. We just need to exercise them.
Ten years ago, if I'd recommended that people try to buy tomatoes at farmer's markets, way more people would say "What Farmer's markets?" Now there's what, five thousand of them?
Read the full interview with Estabrook at

Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ily Goyanes
Contact: Ily Goyanes