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Tomato Blight: Centralized Gardening Strikes a Nasty Blow to Local Agriculture

“Late blight,” related to the disease that caused gthe Irish potato famine in the 1840s, has been ravaging organic farms and gardens in my area of Western Massachusetts. Ironically, it’s been traced to <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/nyregion/18tomatoes.html”>starter plants apparently grown originally at one location in the South, and shipped to some of the big-box suppliers like Wal-Mart</a>.

I know at least three local farms growing tomatoes in commercial quantities that have no crop this year. Thousands of infected plants had to be destroyed. At least one of those started their own plants from seed, and yet was done in by blight spreading from infected plants grown far away form the local ecosystem. And of course, organic farms can’t, by definition, use chemical fungicides.

Just tearing out our half-dozen rotten, smelly, toxic plants and doing our best to dispose of them properly was a job and a half. I can’t imagine dealing with a whole field’s worth.

In 2007 and 2008, we averaged about 1600 tomatoes, with a taste that simply cannot be equaled with commercial methods. This year, we managed to harvest *one* San Marzano before the blight set in. We still have a few from the hundreds that I dried last year, but not having fresh tomatoes is a huge disappointment. Still, I count my blessings. Compared to those who farm for a living and/or supply CSA members, we had a lot less to lose. Farms are faces losses of thousands and thousands of dollars.

The sad thing is, the farms hardest hit are those with a commitment to local, sustainable agriculture–tainted by other companies’ reliance on non-local, centralized systems that allowed this nasty disease to blanket the Northeast all the way out to Ohio.

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