Tomato festival digging for gardeners

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Rick Snyder, a vegetable specialist at Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, is examining beef steak tomatoes grown at the station. Snyder is recruiting farmers for the market this month.(Meredith Spencer The Vicksburg Post

[5/31/04]CRYSTAL SPRINGS What’s a tomato festival without tomatoes?

Not much, says Rick Snyder, who’s calling all Mississippi farmers and even home gardeners to sell their produce at Crystal Springs this month in an annual tomato festival that takes the small town back 50 years.

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“If you don’t have them, it won’t work,” said Snyder, a vegetable specialist and professor at the Truck Corps Branch Experiment Station in the Copiah County town of about 6,000.

In planning the farmers market for the 2004 Tomato Festival on June 25 and 26 downtown, Snyder is trying to get as many farmers as he can.

He’s looking for farmers who grow tomatoes, squash, zucchini, snapbeans, blueberries and just about any fruits and vegetables in season.

Snyder is even asking those with large gardens to sign up.

“Some people grow enough in their back yards for a small town,” he said, adding that they’re welcome to sell the stuff from the back of their cars.

Snyder requires that the produce sold in the market be grown in Mississippi, and sellers must fill out an application that calls for the basics such as name, address, phone numbers and the foods that will be sold.

Snyder said in past years, about eight to 10 farmers typically participated in the market, and their products are usually sold out by about noon. So, he encourages shoppers to arrive early in the day. This year’s market will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

And, Snyder said, a farmers’ market is a good bet for consumers and growers.

Though prices are set by each farmer, he said, costs at a market are typically less expensive than at a grocery store.

“It’s normally cheaper at a farmers market, and it’s always fresher,” Snyder said. “With a farmers market, it’s more nutritious and it tastes better, and the farmer gets to cut out the middle man, so it’s a win-win.”

After a near 50-year hiatus, the festival and the town are going back to their roots.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Crystal Springs, about 45 miles south of Vicksburg on Mississippi 27, was known in the South as the Tomatopolis of the World, Snyder said. But with the invention of refrigerated trucks and irrigation in less-rainy climates, the Mississippi market waned.

The first tomato festival was in 1938 and is was successful. Tomato Queens were crowned in 1938, 1939 and 1940.

“World War II postponed the next festival, and it didn’t start up again until 1996,” Snyder said.

After an almost 50-year break, the Chamber of Commerce revived the festival, and it’s been going since.

This year’s events will kick off at 6 p.m. June 25 with the Tomato Queen pageant and continue Saturday morning with a kiddie parade at 9 on Railroad Avenue.

Youngsters walking or riding wagons, bikes or tricycles will also carry red balloons to begin the day that will include a tomato contest that awards vegetables for being the ugliest, biggest and tastiest.