4th Annual Tasty Tomato Festival Celebrates Locally Grown Food
What began as a friendly potluck dinner in 2010 has blossomed into local tradition, which drew a record crowd of nearly 3,000 this past Saturday. Presented by Sustainable Midlands, the Palmetto Tasty Tomato FestivalÂ is a celebration of locally grown food â€“ the people who grow it, the restaurants who place it on their menus, the markets that sell it, and the people who eat it. Every year, the festival is held to educate, advocate and celebrate solutions that create great sustainable communities.
Continuing its traditions of old-time festival fun for the fourth year in a row, Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival featured a free heirloom tomato tasting, live music, local food and drink vendors, tomato bobbing and other activities for the kiddies, and Tasty Tomato Contests. The festival was held at City Roots Farm,Â a fully sustainable USDA Certified Organic farm located within the city limits of Columbia, South Carolina, which harvests approximately 125 varieties of fruits and vegetables. The festival was the culmination of a weeklong Tasty Tomato Restaurant Feast, a collaboration with local restaurants that offered special dishes on their menus made with Midlands Grown ingredients during the week leading up to the weekend. I enjoyed pre-Tasty Tomato festivities Friday night at Mr. Friendlyâ€™s with Southwest Seared Yellowfin Tuna served with â€¨tomato-avocado salsa, smoked red pepper-tomato coulis,â€¨ cilantro-lime zested rice pilaf, and tomato braised black beans.Â Iâ€™ll save my critique of the meal for Yelp and focus on the cause and advocacy for the event, but for full transparency, it was quite a let down. To give Mr. Friendlyâ€™s the benefit of the doubt, the tuna was not reflective of the other phenomenal meals I have had there, or the country ham and spinach skillet dip appetizer, which was superb. To get back to the point, it was great to see local organizations come together to support the cause and to see the Columbia community so openly embrace it.Â City Roots Farm has really pioneered the sustainable farming initiative in Columbia, and as a first time visitor, I enjoyed learning about the farm andÂ role they play in the Columbia community. In addition to 3 acres of vegetable cultivation fields, City Roots also raise bees for honey and pollination and free range chickens for eggs and soil fertility; house a large scale composting operation; create worm casting and worm tea via vermicomposting; produce year round micro green cultivation; and operate an aquaponic system to produce commercial tilapia. Somewhere between touring the vegetable cultivation fields and greenhouses, I almost forgot I was in Columbia. In addition to vendor stations and food samples from local restaurants and food purveyors, Tasty Tomato had two stages with bands playing everything from soulful southern rock to twangy bluegrass. Even spouts of rain couldnâ€™t put a damper on the event. Children, drenched from tomato bobbing, ran free and those of age indulged in a wide selection of adult beverages including aÂ Bloody Mary bar sponsored by my personal favorite mix, Fat and Juicy.Â Local andÂ regionallyÂ brewed beer from Conquest Brewery, Natty Greeneâ€™s, and Swamp Cabbage BreweryÂ were also present and Conquest Brewery brewed a batch of a specialty tomato-based beer, which, unfortunately, ran out before I was able to sample. In the end, it was clear that it wasnâ€™t just about the tomatoes. “Itâ€™s a celebration of good people who care about good food and who understand the value of buying locally,” said Ryan Nevius, executive director of Sustainable Midlands. â€śWeâ€™re connecting those farmers and the restaurants and making new connections that will hopefully help our farmers sell more in our local market.â€ť