I think we all take food for granted sometimes or at least the ease of which we can acquire groceries. I know I’ve taken for granted how easy it is to get in the car, drive to the grocery store, walk down the aisles, and pick up whatever I need. As busy as most of us are, we get in and out as quickly as possible and rarely give much thought to where the products I’m buying have come from or the process it takes to get those products into my shopping cart.
Canned tomatoes for instance, are such a common ingredient in so many recipes–soups, stews, skillet dishes, casseroles, etc. They are a necessity and a constant sight in my one-pan world, but I never knew what it took to get those lycopene and nutrient-rich jewels into the can so that millions of us around the country could enjoy them. That all changed a few days ago.
I just got back from a 3 day event with my friends at Red Gold Tomatoes. It was called Farm to Table, and Red Gold brought in a few of their friends to show them Tomato Country. I for one will never look at a can of tomatoes in the same way now that I’ve seen how they are harvested, cared for, and canned.
Red Gold is headquartered in Elwood, Indiana-the heart of tomato country. They are a 4th generation family-owned company, and that’s one of the reasons I buy their products and have for so long.
Though I’m usually in a rush in the store, I have been known to read a label or two. The Red Gold Tomatoes label says “Grown by the same Midwestern family since 1942.” That meant something to me. Now, having met the owners and learning more about the company, it means even more.
A family run and owned company, they get their tomatoes from over 50 family farms in Ohio, Michigan and of course, Indiana. Red Gold growers grow 6 billion tomatoes a year–about 400,000 tons. That’s a lotta tomatoes. Our first stop during the event was the Triple S Farm-owned by Scott Smith and his family-one of the 50 family farms that supplies Red Gold with their tomatoes.
The ‘harvester’ machine was there, working on the last 75 acres or so as the harvest time is short, and they had to keep working. The planting is late spring and the harvest begins in August, running through around the 1st week of October, so we made it just in time to catch the last bit of harvesting. This machine is massive and impressive–it harvests the plant, culls out foreign objects, and gently shakes the fruit from the plants. Finally, it returns the harvested plants and other debris picked up back to the field. The tomatoes that were picked the day we were there are already in the cans–they go from vine to can in under 8 hours. The only way to have fresher canned tomatoes than that is to start your own tomato farm!
I learned a lot of things about tomatoes that you don’t normally think about. Since Red Gold’s tomatoes come from the heartland, they’re grown to handle Midwest weather conditions, and they’ve been developed to have just the right amount of heartiness, texture, sweetness, color, and consistency. They’ve also been bred to be coreless and thick-skinned so that they are more hearty at processing, and they all ripen at the same time.
The next day, we paid a visit to their Orestes location canning facility. They work around the clock during the 3 month harvest season to process the 30 tons per acre that comes in on a daily basis. We got a personalized tour from Beau Reichart, son of owners Brian and Selita Reichart. The process is fascinating–from watching the trucks unload to grading, sorting, and washing to ensure only the highest quality, to finally being canned and labeled. During the process, the tomatoes are washed 7 times, rinsed 18 times, hand sorted 11 times, and mechanically color/size sorted 6 times. They’ve got the process down pat–for instance–it only takes about an hour to produce a 10-ounce can of Petite Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies-going from the truck, to sorting, to processing, to labeling, and then ready to ship out to me to make taco soup or hot cheese dip. They can process over 360 tons of tomatoes per hour at their 3 facilities. Whew! That makes me tired just thinking about it!
But not only do they put so much effort into the tomatoes themselves, they’re also environmentally conscientious. Sometimes, the harvester doesn’t expel all of the debris and some of that ends up in the truck loads of tomatoes, but the rocks, vines, dirt–anything that came from the field that isn’t a tomato is returned to the field. Red Gold feels that whatever was in the field is part of it’s culture and should be returned. Their products are non GMO verified, their can liners are BPA free, and they make the most of each tomato, turning unwanted peels into animal feed and some unwanted tomatoes into fertilizer for the fields.
It was an enlightening and fun trip and to cap it off, we all went to the kick off show of Luke Bryan’s Farm Tour (Red Gold is a tour sponsor). Luke, like my husband Charlie, grew up on a farm, and he understands the business of farming and the hard work family farmers around the country put in so the rest of us can run to the grocery and get what we need whenever we need it. I have an even greater respect for everyone involved in farming. I’ve been buying Red Gold products for years, they taste great, and like I mentioned, those words on the label really did speak to me. I met Selita and her other son, Colt last year when we cooked with Selita for a webisode, which you can watch here. They’re great people and good cooks, too, but seeing the whole process for the first time gave me an all new understanding of the lengths people, farmers, canners go to to put food on our tables. I walked away with a much greater respect for everyone at Red Gold-from the owners and office staff to the farmers and the canners. My shelf has always been stocked with Red Gold tomatoes long before I learned all of these things about their company, their brand, and their practices, but now that I know all of this, it makes the taste of those wonderful tomatoes even better.
I’ve been fortunate in my career to have met and interviewed some of my musical idols–Kenny Rogers, Larry Gatlin, and Lionel Richie to name a few. I’d always loved their music, but getting to know them a bit as people gave me an even greater love for their art. Red Gold is right up there with Lionel, Kenny, and Larry to me. I’ve always loved their product, but now that I’ve met them and know them as people, I love them even more! Thank you, Red Gold for a great experience and for the fantastic hospitality. And thank you, Miss Linda for the homemade Tomato Chutney 🙂