Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bart, the Tomato King

The scent of funnel cakes is in the air.

Must be the State Fair.

My favorite fair attraction isn't the butter cow, the world's largest steer, or the magnificent hot tub diplays.

It's the stocky, fast-talking tomato farmer in Promontory Hall.

The one with the overalls, John Deer cap...and the toothpick.

"How long you had that toothpick in your mouth?"

"27 Years."

Bart Anderson oversees the agriculture exhibits. Entries by the state's best competitive gardeners.

He registers the towering sunflowers and oversized Armenian cumcumbers.

He makes sure people don't eat the grapes. (Even though they’re sprayed with laquer, people do, Bart says. "They do the Rocky Mountain Quickstep when they come home.”)

But I know Bart as The Tomato Man.*

Only two things money can't buy and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes.

Since he was a seedling, Anderson's been growing tomatoes. For almost 50 years, in the same backyard.

When we videotaped his garden a few years ago, he had 70 plants.

Brandywine. Sweet Chelsea. Sun Cherry.

And his own personal favorite, Bart's Best. Officially named after his truly.

It produced big, thick, meaty fruit as sweet as candy.

"Probably the best 'mater you’ve laid a lip on," he said.

His legacy.

One hundred years from now people will say, 'Who the heck was Bart?'

"Yeah, they'll say, 'Who?' but they'll say but the tomato sure was good."

Turned out the day we visited was Bart's birthday. His 70th. So I baked him a cake.
A tomato cake. Garnished with fresh slices.

Bart laughed. ("You're alright Peter Spraynozzel.") He does that a lot.

And spouts tomato wisdom.

You plant em in the spring and eat em in the summer and all the time without em's a culinary bummer.

So what does Bart do with all his tomatoes?

Gives them away.

"I probably gave thirty bushels of tomatoes away last year," he said. "Tomatos make the best friends in the world."

I forget all about the sweating and diggin' every time I pick me a 'big-un.'

*You might also remember Bart as the “chicken farmer” in our April Fool’s Day Bigfoot story.

Bigfoot broke into a hen house. And Bart gave a first-hand account.

“Oh he must've been pretty big. He just kicked the door down and got my biggest rooster,” he said. “The hens are all in mourning cuz he's gone.”

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