Friday, October 3, 2008

Tomato farming

Fascinating article on tomatoes:
A nearly two-story-tall mechanical harvester run by the Morning Star tomato-processing company clatters through the Sacramento Valley field. As the machine hums along at about three miles per hour, it uproots two rows of plants and lays them on a belt that conveys them to the top of the harvester, where the vines are sucked through a shredder and blown back onto the field as the tomatoes cascade onto other belts. Electronic eyes send signals to plastic fingers that pop out anything not red or green. Dirt clods, last year's squash and the errant toad and mouse tumble to the ground. The ripe fruit is funneled into a tandem trailer. In ten minutes, the machine gathers more than 22,000 pounds of Roma-type processing tomatoes.

I get into a pickup truck with Cameron Tattam, a Morning Star supervisor, and we follow a semitractor that hooks up to the trailer, pulls out of the field and then barrels down Interstate 5 to a Morning Star cannery outside the town of Williams. This 120-acre facility is the largest of its type in the world. During the three months of the local harvest, it handles more than 1.2 million pounds of tomatoes every hour. The tomatoes I just saw getting picked are washed down a stainless steel flume and plunged into a 210-degree cooker. The heat and pressure blow them apart. After passing through evaporators and cooling pipes, they will end up three hours later as sterile-packed tomato paste in 3,000-pound boxes. For the next two weeks, the facility will produce nothing but paste that is destined to become Heinz ketchup. Among Morning Star's other large customers are Pizza Hut, Campbell's Soup and Unilever, maker of Ragu.

And an interesting titbit:
The tomato itself is a seed-bearing fruit, but the Supreme Court, noting its customary place in the meal, classified it as a vegetable in 1893, for the purpose of deciding which tariff to charge for imports.

No comments: