A farm on Main Street? | TheUnion.com

A farm on Main Street?

Patti Bess
Special to The Union
Ameila Weber and Albert the rescue dog at Greg's Organics on Main Street in Grass Valley.
Submitted by Patti Bess |

Tomato Tips for Home Gardeners

• Tomatoes need excellent soil preparation. Cover cropping is rather easy and inexpensive way of developing soil depth.

• Blossom End Rot, a common problem with tomatoes, is caused by erratic watering (drying out), pH out of balance and/or a lack of Calcium. Greg especially likes to use Diamond K Gypsum to supplement the calcium for his plants. It can be watered right into the soil, doesn’t change the pH, and helps break up soil clods.

• Home gardeners often make the mistake of overwatering tomatoes

— Courtesy of Greg’s Organics

Driving up Main Street in Grass Valley one sunny summer morning, I noticed tomatoes growing in a small valley and up onto an idyllic hillside.

Greg Weber of Greg’s Organics is a tomato wizard. With his two constantly busy helpers, daughter Amelia and Albert the happy rescue dog, he is building quite a successful farming business.

Now in his sixth season, Weber sells to more than 30 wholesale customers in Nevada County and Truckee. He grows over 15 unusual and highly flavorful varieties, some from his own saved seeds.

Heritage tomatoes such as Pink Bumblebee, Nice Girl (no Early Girls here) and Pink Tie Die are not only tasty but have almost rainbow-colored interiors that chefs love to add to their menus.

In the fall months, Greg provides sun-ripened, organic tomatoes for six different school districts.

“The schools are my way of giving back to the community as I offer them a fairly large discount,” he said.

Greg grew up in Santa Rosa. While attending Chico State, he raced bicycles professionally. The Nevada City Father’s Day race was one of his favorite challenges.

For 20 years, Weber traveled extensively as a sales representative for various clothing and accessory companies. In 2008, the economy was crashing, work was diminishing, and he wanted to stay home more with his new daughter, Amelia.

That’s when he took the leap to change careers and do what he really loved — growing tomatoes. The steep learning curve of the next few years would make any bicycle racer a little weak in the knees.

“I’m a very lucky guy and am grateful for the incredible community support over the years,” Greg said.

Several neighbors generously share their water and intentionally leave open space to encourage beneficial predators — snakes, hawks and lizards.

Dan Wheat, from A to Z Hardware, stores his bees on the property to ensure pollination, and Peaceful Valley has been quite cooperative in helping him purchase supplements.

Of course, some of the credit for his success goes to his enthusiastic assistant and sometime supervisor, Amelia.

Gerry and Mary Ann White own and have developed the seven acres and house near the Lutheran Church on Main Street. The land has been in their family since 1864. Greg leases the outlying acres for his farm.

“This is some of the finest farmland in the county,” Greg said. “It was originally a dairy, and the soil strata go quite deep. Peabody Creek runs along the border and water migrates underneath the little swale where tomatoes are planted.

“I can water much less than other farmers because there is great water retention under this land. It’s perfect.”

Greg is a superhero of gopher elimination or perhaps “gopher elevation.” Already this season, he has replaced more than 300 plants that they have destroyed.

Greg understands gopher habits and is absolutely determined to win the battle. Walking around the farm, he can explain what or who makes each mound, depression or hole in the earth — a mole, vole, gopher or his best friend, the gopher snake.

In order not to convey the human scent, he wears gloves when setting traps and washes them after each success so that gophers, who are quite smart, can’t smell their deceased tunnel mates. On the day I visited, Weber had trapped four gophers.

Greg’s Organics also offers a Tomato CSA beginning in mid- to late July. To sign up or for more information, go to http://www.gressorganics.com

So much tomato talk makes me yearn for hotter weather. In August, when gardens and farmers markets (hopefully) will be overloaded with tomatoes, this recipe will make the perfect accompaniment for backyard barbecues.

It is adapted from Placer County Real Food by Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny. A variety of colorful tomatoes makes it more festive and a great way to use up day-old crusty Italian bread. Capers or small chunks of mozzarella cheese are also a nice addition.

Panzanella Salad

3/4 pound rustic bread

3 tablespoons olive

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

3 pounds tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (A variety of colors)

2 cucumbers, sliced

1 small red onion, julienne

1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced basil leaves

2 tablespoons sherry or Champagne vinegar, more if needed

Red wine vinegar can also be substituted

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove crust from bread and cut into 3/4 –inch cubes.

In a medium bowl, toss the bread with the oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Toast on a cookie sheet 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and crisped. Set aside.

Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, croutons and fresh basil to a large bowl. Make a vinaigrette with the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Gently toss together. Marinate for 15 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Patti Bess is local freelance writer, cookbook author, and tomato lover. She can be reached for more information or suggestions at: bess.pattia@gmail.com

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