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Lessons from a tomato…

Some of my friends may know that since last year, I got involved with house plants and growing some vegetables after I started renting my own apartment with a nice patio.. I started off with tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and jalapeno. I went through a bunch of cilantro, pole beans, spinach and carom seeds(ajwain) too during fall and spring and have some more tomato, bell pepper, basil in inclusion with last year’s stock. Most of this enthusiasm was from reading gardening articles, friends and this episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix about a Buddhist Monk growing all her produce and creating beautiful dining experiences combined with spirituality. She let her plants grow and did nothing about pests considering them to be natural forces of nature.

The cucumber’s gone though. It got powdery mildew right after the first fruit. It still braved on and gave me atleast 10 cucumbers before I decided to let it die. I tried milk, neem, and a bunch of DIY and store bought medicines, but nothing really seemed to help. The mint is trimmed off every now and then, but the leaves are getting smaller and more hole-ridden despite constant neem oil or insecticide sprayings. The tomatoes last year were good, but many had to be discarded because of pesky greenworms boring through fruits or spots because of temperature and moisture changes. Jalapeno is going strong. It keeps looking like it will die and then it springs back with 8-10 flowers and fruits suddenly. Same goes for the bell pepper, and that has hole ridden leaves too. The insects are everywhere and there is no escaping. I have still tried to stay on the organic path with all my insecticides being natural and not harmful to the bees. The temperatures are not helping either with fluctuations between 70F to 100F in a matter of few hours.

Yesterday, I noticed that one of my tomatoes had ripened nicely with a bright red color and I decided to pluck it off. When I harvested it, I noticed that it wasn’t as nice as it looked.


I had a new perspective dawn upon me. The humble farmers have to face way more issues than being given credit for. Because I went through the actual ratio of fruit eaten to fruit harvested, and the lifecycle of my plants, I understand a miniscule part of the horrors faced by them. The plants and the crops are their livelihood. Each fruit is important. They have to fight the forces of nature which include heat, cold, rain and shine. Just a change in couple of degrees turns a ripening round tomato into an oddly lobe-shaped fruit. A small difference in moisture content of the soil will introduce the unsightly black spot on the fruit which will lead to discards. Too much rain or too little rain can wreck havoc in the life of a farmer. Same goes for too little or too much crop. A bountiful crop will drive the prices low with a nullifying effect on the profit. Back to square one.

We complain so much about pesticides and the higher costs of organic fruits which use natural herbicides and fertilizers. But I saw the other side where they have to resort to heavy sprayings to prevent pests from literally eating up their money. There is practically no winning.

It is a thankless task to work on farms. They have to fight against nature, flora and fauna to bring food to your table, all the while toiling for almost nothing.

So what am I doing with my tomato? I am cutting that quarter off and gobbling down the rest if there is no sign of a pest inside. I have worked hard(sort of!) to grow it and I am not wasting it. The quarter goes back in the pot to decompose and fertilize. I have done the same for my mint leaves. If there is no sign of pest remnants like eggs or droppings except holes in the leaves, they just get washed nicely and I make my chutney/sauces. The next time you go eww about a couple of black spots on bananas or a soft spot on a tomato, before discarding it, think of that one person who bent his/her back under the afternoon sun to tend to it. Maybe now you have a new perspective on the words ‘Farm to Table’.

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