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Boon in the Time of Salmonella

New America Media, News Report, Anthony D. Advincula Posted: Jun 22, 2008

Editors Note: Ironically, the salmonella outbreak has boosted the demand for tomatoes and multiplied sales revenue for local farmers in New York.

NEW YORK Amid a nationwide salmonella outbreak, the demand for locally grown tomatoes has increased significantly this month. The upsurge, according to farmers, can be attributed largely to discriminating buyers who seek local growers, safe farming measures, and right time of harvest.

For many of our local growers, business has picked up a lot and sale revenues are high, says Greg Swartz, executive director of Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. The recalled tomatoes are mostly from large-scale distribution hubs that supply their products to different markets across the country.

Swartz says that, fortunately, many New York tomatoes are just now coming into season. The good thing is, in terms of timing, the outbreak happened when it was too early for us to harvest.

The demand for local-grown tomatoes also has spiked because of the trusted relationship between the farmers and their buyers, says Diane Eggert, executive director of Farmers Market Federation of New York.

Its really important when our local growers have the opportunity to communicate with their buyers. It builds trust and makes the buyers from moms and dads to chefs in restaurants feel comfortable that the products they buy are safe and healthy, Eggert says.

Since mid-April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there have been 277 reported cases of illness including seven cases in New York City caused by salmonella that is linked to certain types of tomatoes.

On June 18, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene warned residents to avoid certain types of tomatoes, particularly raw red plum, raw red Roma, raw red round tomatoes and products containing these tomatoes, while the salmonella outbreak continues.

In several parts of the country, tomatoes are reportedly rotting in warehouses while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigates the main source of the outbreak.

Some analysts fear that the tomato industry is expected to suffer bigger losses than the spinach industry did in the 2006 E. coli panic.

I believe that local farmers here have taken the necessary precautions to make sure that such outbreaks wont happen, says Dick de Graff, a farmer at Grindstone Farm, which distributes fruits and vegetables to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) markets in the New York area.

One preventive measure, he says, is to build fence and block animals from getting close to the farmland. We dont let chickens, pigs or cows go around our fields. Its necessary not to let these animals defecate on the soil where fruits and vegetables grow.

Like other New York growers, de Graff is pleased that his farm has experienced higher demands from consumers despite the salmonella scare.

We know our customers well, and it pays off. Most of them have 15 to 20 years of trusted business relationship with us. We can easily track where our products are going, he says.

Photos: Anthony D. Advincula / New America Media

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