Ten years ago Tim Reinbott and fellow researchers at Bradford Research Center were looking for a way to encourage people to grow their own food and visit a country farm. They came up with a free, open event to taste one thing: tomatoes. Crowds were small at first but a decade later the annual Tomato Festival at Bradford has grown in to a favorite event for gardeners and foodies.
This year’s festival will be held Sept. 4 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Bradford Research Center. The center, operated by the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) at the University of Missouri, is located just east of Columbia. The free event will feature tomato and pepper tastings, tips for growing produce, dishes from local restaurants, special exhibits for kids and a chance to sample a variety of salsas made with different peppers.
“This has turned into our biggest event of the year,” said Reinbott, superintendent of Bradford Research Center. “It’s great to see how this has expanded to bring out so many people interested in food and agriculture. Last year we had around 1,000 people come out!”
In the gardens at Bradford, 165 different varieties of tomatoes and 120 pepper cultivars were planted.
“Not all are ripe yet, so we are looking to have 250 varieties between the two vegetables,” added Reinbott. “But we also will have tomatillos. They were a hit last year.”
Visitors will be asked to grade the taste of each variety is asked. At the end of the festival, these results will be posted on Bradford’s website to help gardeners and farmers know which varieties people preferred.
New this year is a wine tasting through the MU Grape and Wine Institute of Missouri-made wines.
As the Tomato Festival blossomed into a family event, Bradford added more activities for children. This year, kids can sample different flavors of Missouri-made Shatto Milk from Osborn as well as navigate a corn maze, play games and learn more about where their food comes from.
To see what can be done with tomatoes in the kitchen, several local chefs and restaurants are planning to attend. Eateries such as Sophias, Jack’s Gourmet, Wine Cellar, Trey Bistor, Carlitos, Jose Jalapeños and even Booches will be on hand to serve tomato-based dishes and participate on a chef cook-off.
Love salsa? Then stop by the salsa tasting booth where Steven Kirk and other Lincoln University specialists will be testing taste buds with various levels of heat and flavor from different chilies.
“We really want people to not only try the tomatoes, but to also go home with the knowledge on how to grow vegetables,” said Reinbott.
Experts will be on hand to answer questions on how to make your tomato harvest the best one yet. MU Plant Sciences Professor David Trinklein will speak about tomato production and diseases and Horticulture Specialist Jim Quinn from MU Extension will lead tours through Bradford’s fields and point out different stake and trellising options for growers.
An instructional demonstration on grafting tomatoes also will be offered. “Several of our heirloom varieties don’t seem to produce as well so we have begun to look at grafting those heirlooms onto stronger and more durable root stalks,” said Reinbott.
Like what you had? Your favorite tasting tomato varieties grown at Bradford will be available for purchase.
“Doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone seems to love tomatoes,” laughed Reinbott. “We get young kids all the way up to grandma that love coming out. It’s great to try all the different kinds because not all tomatoes taste the same.”
For more information about the 10th Annual Tomato Festival contact Thresa Chism at 573-884-7945 or visit Bradford Research Center’s new website at http://bradford.cafnr.org/.
Bradford is located at 4968 Rangeline Road. From Highway 63, take the Broadway Exit and head east onto Highway WW for 5 miles. Turn south onto Rangeline Road and follow the signs for 2 miles and the center will be on the right.
Bradford is one of CAFNR’s Agricultural Research Centers located throughout Missouri that host educational workshops. Visit http://cafnr.org/events/ for more events located across the Show-Me State.