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Gathering celebrates locally grown tomatoes

By: Lien Hoang, Loomis News Correspondent
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If you have not yet met the Bloody Butcher, Mr. Stripey or the Mortgage Lifter, it’s not too late. They, along with dozens of other tomato varieties, are being marched out this Saturday, Aug. 20 and Sunday, Aug. 21 during the second annual Tomato Gathering at High Hand Nursery. Lyn Bristol manages the nursery and she wants visitors to know what they’re missing out on if they’ve not yet tried a locally grown heirloom tomato. “It’s like a farmers’ market, we want to showcase Placer County farmers,” she said. In addition to tasting, touching and buying tomatoes, visitors can check out High Hand’s art gallery or café. The cafe relies on many ingredients harvested right from the High Hand grounds. Organizers are still deciding which tomato-based dishes to put on the café menu during the event. As enjoyable as tomatoes are to eat, they might be even more fun to judge. During the tomato contest, growers will compete for best bred, most unusual, best pink, purple or orange, best stripe, best cherry and biggest tomato. Lisa Pilz entered just about all of the contests last year. She said Pilz Produce at Hillcrest, which she runs with her husband, brought more tomatoes than any other grower, including a few extra cultivars planted because she heard there would be a Gathering. Pilz has 65 types of heirlooms, which she said offer a much more diverse taste than what is found in the supermarket. They can be much juicier, hearty, thin-skinned or sweet as fruit. One of her favorite parts of last year’s Gathering was introducing the crop to new fans. “The reaction is about the flavor,” she said. “People are just absolutely surprised how good they are.” While her husband’s family has owned their farm since 1927, at the other end of the spectrum are new tomato growers, and home gardeners who’ve joined the sustainable and local food movement. Though it is the star of the show, the tomato is not the only attraction at the Gathering. High-Hand owner Scott Paris noted that the event coincides with the 110-year anniversary of the High-Hand Fruit Growers Association’s founding. He will give tours of the fruit sheds that harken back to the days when the state’s abundance was packed by hand into crates, labeled resplendently, and then shipped off along California’s defining railroads. “The tomato is simply the catalyst to bring people to a 110-year-old site,” Paris said. TOMATO GATHERING What: Celebration of all things tomato and High Hand’s 110th anniversary When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 21 Admission: Free Activities: Homegrown tomato contest at 11 a.m., Saturday. Free tasting. Sales of locally grown and heirloom tomatoes. Information: 652-2065.