Grainger County was hit by strong hailstorms just after field crops were planted in April, but the storms missed Mixon Farms’ field tomatoes.
Mixon Farms also had three to four days in June with severe storms, but Mixon said she didn’t know of any damage.
“They (the tomatoes) are really beautiful,” Mixon said of the field tomatoes. “This area grows a really wonderful tomato. They have a rich flavor.”
Even Mixon Farms’ greenhouse tomatoes are grown in Grainger County soil. The plants are set in the ground, under a wood frame covered with plastic.
Grow Farms, Louisville, Ky., grows and ships Grainger County field and greenhouse tomatoes, said Brian Knott, president.
Demand for Grainger County tomatoes is strong, especially from retailer buyers, Knott said.
Orbit Tomato Corp., Memphis, Tenn., repacks tomatoes and red potatoes.
The majority of its business is in repacking round tomatoes into reusable plastic containers for a major retailer in Memphis, said Lee Forcherio, general manager. It also packs romas and a four-pack of green tomatoes, as well as red potatoes, for that chain.
Orbit sources tomatoes from across the U.S., and during the local tomato season, Orbit’s major-chain customer drops Orbit as a supplier. It prefers to deal directly with a local grower, Forcherio said.
“I don’t know if it’s a price thing or a just a public relations thing, but they go directly to the grower,” he said. “I could, theoretically, supply them with the local tomatoes.”
In general, retailers in Memphis support local growers, Forcherio said. He often sees point-of-sales signs promoting produce as homegrown or locally grown. Memphis retailers also frequently advertise local produce in print ads, he said.
“When it’s available, I think they do try to take advantage of it as much as they can,” Forcherio said.
Memphis retailers’ interest in local produce is not a new trend, but Forcherio said he’d noticed a bigger push for local farmers markets in the past two to three years.
“There’s been at least eight or 10 so-called farmers markets pop up in communities around Memphis,” Forcherio said.
The Pick Tennessee Products program has a website where consumers and buyers can find suppliers of items produced in Tennessee.
The program is funded through state appropriations, said Kyle Holmberg, marketing specialist at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Nashville.