The Life and Death of a Tomato

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
– Cicero

For most of my life, I’ve lived in the desert, where what grows is sparse and inedible. Pine trees cling to the thin layer of rocky, volcanic soil. My family tried to grow a small garden in a barrel that yielded a very small, sad serrano pepper. So, when I moved up to the insanely green Pacific Northwest, I knew I wanted to try my hand at something I’d never done before — to grow a plant.

And so, one summer’s morn, I bought a pot at a local hardware store containing basil, parsley, oregano and the holy grail of backyard gardens, a humble green tomato. Coincidentally, that was when the rain stopped.

For weeks, I watered it by hand with pint glasses of tap water. I set it out in the sun and pruned the dead leaves. I did my best to give it a fighting chance. I suppressed my tendency to get distracted by other things. Every day, I was there with water and scissors.

And yet, despite my fears, something strange began in happen as August turned hot. One of the tomatoes started to turn a sickly green shade of yellow. Gradually, slowly, it turned orange and then red.

I couldn’t believe it. I was convinced that I was going to kill it (the way I once killed a potted cactus), but miraculously, it pulled through.

This weekend, I carefully cut it from the vine and brought it inside. I stared at it, this fragile thing that I had nurtured — that I had managed not to murder. It felt good. It felt right that I had grown my own food through my own labor. I thought back to the generations of my family who had worked the land and wondered if they’d ever felt this kind of pride at the harvest.

Then I looked closer. My tomato was far from perfect. The skin was split around the stem. The skin was mottled with yellows and browns. It had spots and bumps. A grocery store would probably throw it out. But when we cut it open and took the first bite, it was so much better than anything a commercial farm could produce.

I don’t know if it was the emotional connection I forged with this fruit, the lingering feeling that this tomato was somehow a reflection of me with all my imperfections, or the simple fact that I had raised it, but it was by far the best tomato I’ve ever eaten.

Never judge a book by its cover or a tomato by its skin.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer and small scale urban farmer (current farm = one pot of herbs and tomatoes) in Tacoma, WA. His short story, The Observable Universe, was published by Creative Colloquy in July.

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