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It's always tomato time

No matter what the calendar says, processing tomatoes from California are always ripe and in season!


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California is a great place to enjoy tomatoes—whether they are fresh, heirloom or processed. In fact, processing tomatoes are so big in California that no matter what state you live in, when you add ketchup to a burger, mix some tomato sauce into your pasta or slice up a pizza, you can be 99 percent sure that the rich-flavored red stuff came from California. That's because 99 percent of all the processed tomato products consumed in the entire United States come from tomatoes grown on farms right here in the Golden State.

You see, before they can make it into great-tasting foods like Rick Mahon's pizzas at Sacramento's OneSpeed Restaurant, processing tomatoes get their start at farms like Bruce Rominger's in nearby Yolo County. A five-generation family business, today Bruce has more than 600 acres devoted to both conventional and organic processing tomatoes. And he hopes to harvest more than 30,000 tons of them this year alone. Harvesters move quickly and swiftly through the fields—it's a one-shot deal as the machines move through one and one time only.

But lest you think processing tomatoes are just your average tomato, Bruce explains otherwise: "They have a similar shape and type as what a lot people will call a Roma tomato in the grocery store. They have a thick skin on them—with a lot of solids in them, which is what the canneries like."

And although they may not be the most glamorous of crops, processing tomatoes are one of the most important ones in Yolo County where they produce a gross value of $370 million and are the No. 1 cash crop.

Overall, California supplies the nation with a wide variety of tomato-based products—many of which are processed not too far from Bruce's farm, at Pacific Coast Producers in Woodland. There, timing is of the essence.

"As far as the loads that come into this plant, from the time it's harvested to the time it's in the can, is four to six hours," said Niraj Raj, plant manager of Pacific Coast Producers. "And all of our tomatoes are grown within a 16-mile radius."

Consumption of processed tomato products continues to be strong, thanks to their taste and versatility. In fact, while Americans each eat more than 16 pounds of fresh tomatoes a year, we consume the equivalent of 79 pounds in processed tomatoes annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So whether you eat tomatoes for your health or just for fun, farmers like Bruce Rominger are hoping you eat them for a bigger reason—as a way to support your local farming community, which in turn supports you.

"I tell people it's really the essential industry we have in this country," he said. "I think farmers are underappreciated. People have to understand this is all essential—open land is essential, the good water is essential, the infrastructure to the tomato canneries, they are an essential part to all of our food supply.

"It's not just something for the farmers. It's for everybody."

For more information about OneSpeed Restaurant, visit www.onespeedpizza.com.

For more information about Pacific Coast Producers, visit www.pcoastp.com.


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