Large crowd turns out for Seventh Annual Tomato Fest
KEARNEYSVILLE — Nearly 500 people turned out to taste-test tomatoes and benefit from the experiences of master gardeners, according to organizers of the Seventh Annual Tomato Fest held Aug. 18 at the West Virginia Tree Fruit Research & Education Center in Kearneysville.
According to Chairman Rick Lowman, the high number far surpassed attendance at any of the previous Tomato Fests. This was the first year for the festival in its new location in Kearneysville. Prior to this year, the event had most recently been held at Morgan’s Grove Park in Shepherdstown.
Master Gardener Melanie Files, who helps organize the event, said she was excited to move to the Research Center because it provides a dedicated space for the event to call home.
“When we were at Morgan’s Grove, we had limited space because we were often sharing it with other park users,” Files said. “We wanted a dedicated space and so we asked about using this space.”
Sponsored by the Berkeley-Jefferson Extension Master Gardeners Association, Tomato Fest allows individuals to share their tomatoes for a taste-test contest. This year, 28 varieties were represented.
“Each person needs to supply approximately six to eight large tomatoes or 20-30 cherry tomatoes,” Files said. The tomatoes are then cut into bite-size pieces for attendees to taste. Once the tasting has been done, each person votes for their top three choices.
“There were 364 ballots,” Lowman said at the end of the festival. The top winners were the Brandywine, submitted by Louise Finch with a total of 174 votes. Taking second place was the West Virginia 63 entered by Ed Guzik with a total of 114 votes and winning third place was Sun Gold entered by Joyce Robinson, gaining 67 votes.
“Not everyone that tasted entered a vote,” Lowman said. “Some families only voted once as a group and some people tasted but didn’t vote.”
While many of the tomatoes were entered by master gardeners, anyone was able to enter. Only one of each variety was allowed into the competition, so it was on a first-come basis. Most of the tomatoes, 25 of the 28 entries, were heirloom tomatoes with three being hybrids, Lowman said.
Diane Brill, of Hagerstown, Maryland, tried every one of the 28 varieties. By the time she reached the end of the row of samples, she had changed her mind several times on her favorite. One, the Indigo Rose, a cherry tomato, grabbed her attention.
“Wow, it really has a big flavor for such a little tomato,” she said, reaching for a second sample.
Those who found some favorites when tasting also had the opportunity to take home seeds from those favorites to plant for next year. Master Gardener Angie Faulkner presented a talk on how to save the tomato seeds to grow next season.
“One gentleman saved seeds from all the heirloom entries,” Lowman said.
In addition to Faulkner’s talk on saving seeds, several other educational demonstrations were held throughout the day. Randy Sine shared general information on growing tomatoes, tomato varieties and problems that can inhibit a good crop. Lou Scavnicky shared tips on extending the growing season and Eldon Winston and Louise Finch offered insight on how to keep the plants healthy. A demonstration by Chef Miriam Conroy from Blue Ridge Community and Technical College had many enjoying samples of her tomato recipes prepared on-site.