|Wine and Dine Hawaii
Enough Of Terrible Tomatoes
If you’ve been searching for a great tasting tomato recently and can’t
seem to find one — or are unwilling to pay almost surreal prices — then
join the club. Most savvy shoppers are hesitating before they fill up
with tomatoes this month, and some stores have even placed scales right
next to the fruit, presumably to stop a shocking dose of sticker shock
at the checkout. Since heavy rains hit the island of Oahu during the
last weeks of October, local tomato growers have been plagued by their
worst fear — ruined crops and the prospect of a long, hard winter.
|Enough Of Terrible Tomatoes
Hauula farmer Terry Shintaku
“There’s a real shortage,” says Waimanalo grower (of Nalo Greens) and distributor of Hauula Tomatoes, Dean Okimoto.
“It is due to the bad weather, but it also coincides with a grower cut
back at this time of year. The prices we’re seeing are higher than $4
for vine-ripened. Heck, the junk stuff was $2.59/pound.” The junk stuff
— in my opinion every Mainland import, including the dubiously labeled
“vine-ripened /greenhouse grown” — is now more than $5 per pound in
most supermarkets. “Slicing tomatoes” (whoever bought a piece of fruit
because it was easy to cut?) are around $4/pound for little or no
taste, and Mainland “vine-ripened” (surely that should be
“container-ripened”), have just peaked at over $5/pound.
Terry Shintaku, grower of, in my opinion, the world’s tastiest tomato,
has been living with the winter crisis, but his crops won’t be ready
for harvest until probably some time in March. Shintaku has the
sanguine personality essential to farming. “You live with this kind of
thing,” he says with a smile. “You have to budget well and know that
this kind of devastation can happen once in a while. It’s farming, and
if you can’t handle the pressure, then it’s probably not the best
business to be in.”
Hauula farmer Terry Shintaku is anticipating a good tomato crop
Certainly makes you think more about the phrase “saving for a rainy day.”
On Shintaku’s Hauula farm, the trouble started last year with the heavy
October rains that literally beat up the crops. Shintaku’s
hydroponically grown fruits suffered root rot from constant rain and
developed a “damping off fungus” — one that is incredibly difficult to
treat. Coincidentally, Mainland growers suffered similar plights around
the same time and fruits that we would usually see coming from
California, Florida and Mexico slowed down right around the time local
growers ceased production.
“It’s really a coincidence that everyone suffered at the same time,”
says Terry, who adds that he doesn’t remember such a dearth in crops
since the late ’70s when the Mainland was hit by ravaging storms.
And as for the price increases? Well, when there’s a national shortage, expect to pay top dollar for almost anything.
Shintaku is characteristically optimistic about the future, though.
He’s a cowboy at heart — a fearless rodeo rider as well as a
green-thumb farmer — and he says he’s weathering the storm pretty well.
“Although all of our late September and October plant-ings are ruined,
I’m optimistic that we’ll see a good crop by the end of February or
beginning of March.”
Chefs who are lost without this wonderful island fruit may see light at
the end of the tunnel a few weeks before that, as Shintaku tries to
fill restaurant orders in time for Valentine’s Day.
“But maybe you shouldn’t print that,” he adds with a laugh at the end
of our chat. “All the chefs will be calling Dean to get their orders in
Hey, we all need a little hope — and I, for one, would settle for a
huge, ripe Hauula tomato as my Valentine’s gift this year in place of
any roses, chocolates or even dinner.
Until then, I’m doing without. And if anyone can explain to me what a “slicing tomato” is, you know where to find me.