I’ve never been a fan of summer. While lots of people head to the beach, go for a run, or join a pickup game of basketball at the neighborhood playground, I hide in my house away from the sun, heat, and mosquitoes. There is one thing that I love about summer though, and that’s a fresh-from-the-plant tomato sliced up and prepared with some olive oil and basil. That simple pleasure makes enduring the heat and humidity of August all worth it.
Despite the heat wave, the pandemic has me itching to get out of the house and looking for something safe to do. A link to Rainbow Tomatoes Garden came to my rescue.
This small, roadside stand on a small farm is owned by Dan Waber, a former chef who grows and sells more than 300 varieties of tomatoes. I didn’t even know there were that many different kinds. So my family and I hopped in a car for a scenic ride into the countryside to check out his offerings. After arriving at the stand in East Greenville, we knew immediately that our trip was not in vain. Dan and his wife, Jennifer, were both wearing masks. Resting upon their beautiful handmade tables constructed by a carpenter friend were dozens of varieties of tomatoes of all colors and shapes.
Dan greeted us and offered lots of information about the tomatoes that he had available that day. He explained some of the differences among the varieties and offered us a taste of anything we wanted to try. We enjoyed filling a bag with tomatoes that looked fun, interesting, and beautiful. We took special pride in selecting the largest offering he had that day. It was a 1.75 pound Cherokee Carbon, a beautiful, dark, almost purple tomato. We ate it for lunch, and it was the most delicious tomato I have ever tasted.
I asked Dan more questions about his tomato farm.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
How did you learn to grow tomatoes?
The book that made me put my first seeds in the ground was “Heirloom Vegetable Gardening” by William Woys Weaver, of Devon. My first garden included a half a dozen kinds of tomatoes. They were each, in their own way, spectacular. I have volunteered at several organic farms and spent all of last season working for an organic market gardener. This is my first season entirely on my own at this scale. I am learning every day.
After being a chef, why grow tomatoes?
Like most major decisions, it was at the intersection of a lot of stories. In my first career I was a professional chef in the Chicago area, working mostly in private clubs and hotels. After I left that industry, I remained passionate about food, and I have always been an ingredient nerd.
Years ago, I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and it changed my life. After reading it I made a commitment to support sustainable agricultural practices with my purchases, and, a long-term commitment to find a way to support them with my labor, as well. I lost 110 excess pounds in 11 months after removing myself from the industrial food chain.
[My wife and I]bought a property with enough space to grow, and spent a season with it while we considered what crop or crops would best suit the land. I worked at a nearby organic market gardener’s farm to gain more experience than my community gardening years gave. In June of last year, we decided on tomatoes. Everyone knows that a homegrown tomato is better than a store-bought tomato, so the heavy lifting of education is already done.
What is special about some of the varieties you grow?
There are over 10,000 tomato cultivars, and more being created by breeders every year. I selected the 320 I grow because someone, somewhere, in some book or group or conversation celebrated its flavor. I grow for flavor.
We have tomatoes that are white when ripe, green when ripe, black when ripe, brown when ripe, yellow when ripe, striped on the outside, multicolored on the inside, tomatoes that are round, oblong, pear-shaped, dumpling-shaped, impossible-to-describe shaped, as small as a currant, and larger than a 16-inch softball. And in every possible combination of these features. We have tomatoes like you’ve never seen before that taste better than any tomato you’ve ever eaten.
Are people now referring to you as the tomato guy?
I believe the preferred formulation is “that crazy guy with all the tomatoes.”
Rainbow Tomatoes Garden
All tomatoes are $4 per pound and the stand is cash only.
If you plan on visiting later in the day, call ahead to make sure they aren’t sold out. They are often available after-hours for any tomato emergencies.
Monday-Friday: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
2979 Kutztown Road, East Greenville, Pa. 18041
For daily updates of variety availability, check their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rainbowtomatoesgarden