Reeds Spring Tomato Cannery

Tomato Hills

by Joshua Heston

Solanum lycopersicum.

It’s quite a name for the ever’day tomato.

A member of the Nightshade family (along with sweet potatoes, peppers and, of course, the deadly nightshade), the tomato is native to the Americas.

Some believed for along time that the plants and fruits were poisonous and stories are told of old Ozarks families growing great, pink tomatoes only because they were pretty.

Who knows what folks really thought.

We do know that many tomato breeds were developed in Germany and brought back into the Ozarks with the great waves of immigrants beginning in the 1830s.

The would prove important to the old Ozark economy.

After logging had stripped the hills or loblolly and white oak, farmers began planting tomatoes.

In the hot, humid Upper South summers, the plants could grow prolifically in recently cleared mountain ground.

Through the first half of the 20th century, more and more hillfolk earned a living from the tomato hills.

Local tomato canneries were built by the dozens. The abundance of running springs helped, providing more than enough cold water to wash and scald bushel after bushel of tomatoes to be canned and shipped.

Folks would come from far and near to work at those steaming, chaotic tomato canneries — often grateful to earn less than a dollar an hour.

All because of the ever’day tomato — here in the Ozarks.

March 7, 2010

plate 1. Reeds Spring Tomato Cannery.

Tomato Leaves

plate 2.

Red Tomato

plate 3.

Tomato Stem Detail

plate 4.

Plate 1, courtesy of Chick Allen & John Fullerton, Plate 2, 4, StateoftheOzarks Archive (May, 2008). Plate 3, Stateoftheozarks Archive (August 2007).

dogwood petal

Tomato Capital of the World

(Springfield, MO) Southwest Missouri was once the tomato capital of the world. Tens of thousands of Ozarkers picked and canned millions of cases of tomatoes for export to the rest of the U.S. from late in the 19th century until just after World War II.

Today Florida, California and China are the largest sources of tomatoes in the U.S.

From Ozarks Natural Foods, LLC

Growing Food

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