Tomato economics and the collapse of capitalism

I read an article in a local newspaper on Tuesday that is preparing folks for price hikes in their grocery bills because of the terrible weather in the Eastern states. Shortly after I read that  a friend sent me a link to a post where someone had linked an old government statement about cloud seeding to the current weather patterns and using it to argue  the current storms as evidence that  climate change is a hoax. Hmmmm…

Whatever your views on the origins of the storms, they are occurring and they are interrupting the flow and price of basic foods  around the rest of Australia. Times are getting increasingly tough and considerably crazier. We have to look at staple crops that we can easily grow at home. Tomatoes fit the bill perfectly and are a key Summer staple that can be prepared and preserved for eating throughout the rest of the year. 

Can’t sell them red!

The Tomatoes that you get in the supermarkets are rubbish! Every year, I get to pick ‘waste’ tomatoes from the vines at a local commercial greenhouse. What do they define as waste? The answer is ‘anything red’. 

It turns out that they can’t sell red tomatoes to the supermarkets because they can’t be transported or stored well. Consequently, tomatoes are generally picked while still mostly green in commercial ventures and the red ones discarded. Some tomatoes are also gassed with Ethylene to turn them red on the outside and make them appear ripe – nothing like a home grown, vine ripened fruit at all.  Yes, I said ‘fruit’ because tomatoes are, botanically, a fruit, not a vegetable, even though we use them as such.

Our friendly growers can see the sense in letting local community groups come in and pick the red ones for distribution to local charities who give away food to people doing it tough. So, usually once in the middle of the season, we get to pick the red ones. Then, at the end of the season, the owners go through and cut all of the vines at ground level and let them dry for a couple of weeks before pulling them out and burning them. Needless to say, there are still plenty of tomatoes on these vines and this is our second opportunity to jump in and rescue some more. When I say ‘some’, I have never picked less than 50 kg at a time myself and there are dozens of locals with a similar mindset who put in the time and effort to pick and distribute ripe, red tomatoes.

It is one of the curses of capitalism that such waste is encouraged in the name of efficiency and profit. In order to make a living, the growers must cut costs as much as possible and in situations like this ‘costs’ are the extra time and labour it would take to pick and distribute this unsold bounty. Fortunately, our growers see a slightly bigger picture but they are small fish when compared to the big players.

I’ve no words for this!

So what can we do about it all? There are many things but the key is to grow a lot of your own vegetables. You don’t  need to grow them all. Just growing a few can really help your health, your weekly budget and your sanity.  Growing a few of your own vegetables can also help retain and even encourage biodiversity and save plant strains from going extinct. Growing a little of your own food can contribute to reducing plastic waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as well. 

It was definitely a sign of the times the other day when I took a picture of a package of two medium sized tomatoes on sale for $5.00. If that wasn’t shocking enough, their original price was $9.00! Yes, $9.00 for two tomatoes and from a local grower who probably didn’t see anything close to the $4.50 per tomato that they were priced at in the supermarket!

That’s a  lot to ask from a handful of veggie seedlings! So let’s start with an easy one, Tomatoes.

Start with your revolution with Tomatoes in Tomato season.

It’s definitely Tomato time around here in Gawler. The time of the year is right for planting both tomatoes and (non-violent) revolution. There are thousands of seedlings on sale literally everywhere. On the weekend, I helped out at the Port Adelaide Food Gardening Heirloom Tomato sale where I gladly helped boxfuls of seedlings make their way to their new homes in people’s veggie patches.

So here’s some simple tips to planting great Tommies – 

Soil prep tips:

1) mix some powdered eggshells into the soil. This gives a supply of calcium which is needed for strong cell walls as well as preventing the dreaded blossom end rot.  Learn about the benefits of eggshells for your garden here.

A little eggshell helps a great deal
A little eggshell helps a great deal.

2) mix some chopped up  Dandelion leaves or Banana skins into the soil. Both of these contain heaps of potassium which is said to promote flowering, retain flowers, promote fruiting and fruit retention, giving you MORE TOMATOES. These two additives will be broken down and available  by the time the plant needs them. You can find out how to make your own potassium rich extract here.

Planting tips:

PLANT THEM DEEP.  Planting with plenty of the stem below the soil level will encourage roots to grow from the stem, giving you a more resilient plant.

Plant your seedlings deep.
Plant your seedlings deep.

Planting the seedling at least to the depth marked by the red line will give you a healthy plant. Some folks trim off any lower leaves that will below the soil level but I just bury them.

Newly grown roots from the buried stem.
Newly grown roots from the buried stem.

The pic above is of the original seedling roots and the new ones that have grown from the buried stem. These only took a couple of weeks but the plant will be much stronger now.

That’ll get you started in your career as an over thrower of capitalism. As things grow, I’ll post again with tips for keeping the plants growing well.

5 Comments on “Tomato economics and the collapse of capitalism

  1. I can’t believe the $5!!
    I don’t know the exchange rate so it might be quite as alarming as it seems but all the same…
    I had no idea that supermarket tomatoes were transported green etc. So, thanks for the info.


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