What a Year for a Tomato Festival


The Patina Restaurant Group is celebrating its first ever Tomato Festival, starting this Saturday and lasting until the tomatoes run out. Problem is, the tomatoes might not actually make it to the party.

Record-breaking rainfall and below-average temperatures have been a blight on tomato crops, quite literally. The Times reported that late blight, a highly contagious fungus has spread to nearly every state in the Northeast due to the cool, wet weather. For small and organic farms, the effects are even worse than for commercial farms, which use herbicide and pesticide sprays to minimize the damage.

“I know a commercial farmer who’s on a five-day spray schedule — 7-10 days is normal. And he’s using stuff he never would have used before,” says Tom Decker of Double Decker Farm in Hillsdale, one of the farms providing tomatoes for the festival. “I’m not 100 percent organic, so I do spray. Of course, I’m using much lesser sprays. But then, I have dead tomatoes.”

Decker, who has owned his farm with his wife, Debbie Barber, since the early 1980s, says he’s trying to get together as much of his heirlooms as possible for this weekend, despite this being a “horrible year for tomatoes.” The crop needs some water to grow, but significantly more sunshine to produce ripe, sweet fruit.

For the festival, Decker is trying to source tomatoes from his friends’ and neighbors’ farms in the tri-state area, but hasn’t had much luck so far. The Patina Group had originally asked for 125 to 150 pounds of tomatoes, which would have been a reasonable request any other year. This season, Decker will be happy if he can send them 10 pounds.

The Patina Group Tomato Festival will take place at Brasserie, Brasserie 8 1/2, Cafe Centro, Naples 45, Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse, Rock Center Cafe, and The Sea Grill, with special tasting menus featured at each restaurant. Rain or shine, the show must go on.