KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. — Allison Adams smiles as she bends over and discovers a large, juicy red heirloom tomato in her garden – a plot of land that not only contains dozens of her own plants, but is also home to some others being cultivated by her four children.
Without moving more than a foot or two, Adams soon has her hands (and arms) full of a variety of tomatoes – including some smaller, yellow ones.
Since she’s trying to garden as organically as possible – without the use of chemicals like pesticides and herbicides – there’s no fear when Adams pops one of the pear-shaped yellow tomatoes into her mouth without even washing it.
“These little things are so good that my kids like them too,” she said with a smile.
Although she usually uses the annual harvest to produce and can food for her family, everything from spaghetti sauce to salsa, this year is going to be a little different.
That’s because Adams – along with Cathy Sigalas – is co-chairing the 2015 TomatoFest sponsored by the Berkeley-Jefferson Extension Master Gardeners Association that will be held Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Morgan’s Grove Park outside of Shepherdstown.
While she’ll still have plenty to preserve, Adams is joining other master gardeners who’ve agreed to donate heirloom tomatoes to be used for taste testing by festival goers.
Sounding like a proud mother, she lists the different kinds of tomatoes she’ll be bringing – including paste varieties like Amish and Giant Italian. Others with unusual names include maidens kiss, purple rider, Tennessee green and pasteque, she said.
But since she also likes to try new types, Adams has some West Virginia varieties like Dr. Suds Capon Bridge, Federele and Paw Paw.
This summer hasn’t, however, been a great tomato-growing season, so there are lots of green ones still on the vine, but that doesn’t worry Adams too much, since a number of people are donating tomatoes for the festival – an annual event which features free activities for people of all ages, talks and demonstrations.
For example, organizers expect to have a tomato tasting table featuring at least 15 different varieties of local, home-grown heirloom tomatoes to be sampled, said publicity chairperson Jenny Hughes.
Master gardeners will also be on hand at a “tomato doctor booth” to talk about horticulture issues, questions and concerns.
Children will also have plenty to do, including a cherry tomato guessing game, photo ops, face painting, cornhole, marigold transplanting and some unusual activities such as tomato button bracelets and tomato maze sheets to trace and color, Hughes said.
Talks and demonstrations will begin at 11 a.m. and continue until the end of the festival, she said. Chef Miriam Conroy will kick off the event by sharing “cold recipes” for preparing tomatoes, followed by Randy Sine, a tomato and pepper breeder who is well known for his work with seeds.
Sine will discuss general information about “tomato varieties, growing them and problems associated with growing the best crop,” Hughes said.
Beginning at 1 p.m., master gardener Melanie Files will share ways to preserve tomatoes from drying to picking.
Angie Faulkner, who started growing heirloom tomatoes in 1999 at her Shannondale home, will be featured from 2:30-3 p.m. with a presentation centering on how to save seeds from favorite tomato varieties.
Hughes said organizers are expecting a good crowd, perhaps as many as 300 people, since the festival has grown each year.
“People should also come hungry, because we will have a special concession where they can purchase delicious items that have been selected especially for the festival such as tomato tarts, gazpacho, tomato sandwiches, Caprese salad, homemade salsa and chips as well as hot dogs,” she said, adding that drinks and desserts (brownies, Rice Krispie treats and cookies) can also be purchased.
Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131.