The Local Food Report: hydroponic tomatoes

I never expected tomatoes in December. October, surely, as the last harvest is pulled from the vine. November, maybe, from a sunny windowsill—the last ripened bunch.

But at Cape Abilities Farm in Dennis, they're only just now wrapping up. Tucked just off Route 6A in Dennis lies a greenhouse dedicated entirely to tomates, growing hydroponically.

Bud Hale, the hydroponics coordinator at the farm, makes the system seem easy. Perlite, a type of amorphous volcanic rock, provides the roots with structure, while enhanced water offers the correct blend of nutrients and a greenhouse heated shelter. The season runs from May through mid-December, offering a nice extension for homegrown enthusiasts. "People get tired of the rocks they get in the grocery store," he explains, laughing. "Our goal is to give them a superior tomato."

The farm grows two types of tomato: Trust Beefsteak and Clarence Cluster. They placed 8th and 9th in the Massachusetts Agriculture Competition this August, an achievement of which Bud and others at the farm are very proud. The tomatoes are sweet, firm, red—and always perfectly fresh.

The farm makes a point not to ship off Cape. With such an emphasis on buying local, they believe it's important to sell local as well. They have a salad club, a sort of version of a CSA, where members sign up in the spring, and receive bags of lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce through the season.

Many of the workers who run the salad club have a disability of sorts. They are hired through the larger Cape Abilities non-profit, established forty years ago as a work center providing jobs for the disabled. It's grown and grown and grown. The farm was new two years ago; today over 50 farm hands labor there, perfecting tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers. They pack the salad club bags, sorting vegetables and names and dates.

For now, there is a wait list. But these tomatoes—and their story—might just be worth putting down your name.


Serves 2-3

Slice 3 tomatoes into thin rounds. Layer over the bottom of a pie plate or similar serving dish. Drizzle with the following vinaigrette: 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, a pinch of tarragon, a pinch of sugar, and sea salt and pepper to taste.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.