The Tomato Man Can: Craig LeHoullier Sheds Light on His "Epic" Research at Sustainable Agriculture Conference | Food Feature | Indy Week

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The Tomato Man Can: Craig LeHoullier Sheds Light on His "Epic" Research at Sustainable Agriculture Conference

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It's fair to say that no one was more surprised than Craig LeHoullier when the Raleigh author's first book, Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, recently snagged the 2016 Media Awards Gold Medal Award of Achievement for Best Overall Book from the Association for Garden Communicators (AGC).

"I didn't even know it had been nominated," says LeHoullier, who learned about the honor when his friend Brienne Gluvna Arthur, a Fuquay-Varina landscape gardener and fellow tomato grower, posted an image announcing the news on Facebook. "She was there and was the first to tell me."

LeHoullier, known as the “N.C. Tomato Man” is widely credited for bringing the Cherokee Purple and other heirloom tomatoes to national prominence. AGC says its medals "recognize significant distinction and merits that exemplify exceptional work."

LeHoullier will speak at this weekend’s thirty-first-annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. His talk is titled "Epic Tomatoes for the Southeast: History, Stories and Tips for Success." He also will participate in a book-signing event featuring several Triangle authors. Register here to attend.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CRAIG LEHOULLIER
  • Photo courtesy of Craig LeHoullier
INDY: Epic Tomatoes, now in its third printing, seems to have struck a chord with gardeners. How do you account for its success?

CRAIG LEHOULLIER: First, Storey Publishing really made it into a beautiful and distinctive book, for which I am very grateful. And, luckily, the timing was right. Everyone seems to be interested in heirloom tomatoes, and it's gone from just buying them at farmers markets to growing them at home. I grew more than two hundred varieties myself this year, including sixty dwarf tomatoes that are part of a special project. I'm working on ways to make it possible for more people to grow tomatoes at home, even if they have a small garden or just a balcony.

Joe Lamp’l, host of the PBS series Growing a Greener World, visited you several times this year. When will viewers get to see the straw-bale garden atop your driveway that continues to produce fruit and vegetables?

It will be some time next season but I don't know the date. He visited me three times over the summer. First he did a podcast, then he filmed everything I did to get the garden started. The third visit was a tomato tasting with Brie.

After publishing Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales: Easy Planting, Less Weeding, Early Harvests this year, you're now working on a book proposal about the outcomes of your work with dwarf tomatoes. What did you discover from your efforts this summer?

I've had good results with lots of different colors of cherry tomatoes and some dwarf paste tomatoes, varieties of Romas. I've created a survey for some companies that are featuring that dwarf we've developed to learn which are the ones people like to grow in different regions. With any luck, these new tomatoes will still be here in fifty or one hundred years. They'll be heirlooms by then, because people will still be growing them.

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