Organic tomato farmer sees fruits of work

Many market-goers say tomatoes worth rising early on Saturdays

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The Saturday sun has just risen over Esther Short Park. Dew clings to the grass, and the morning air is still damp with fog. But there’s already a crowd gathered at the Vancouver Farmers Market. Patrons wait in lines for the plump fruits and vegetables sold by local farmers.

Now, more than ever, customers are buying local and organic produce, instead of the mass-grown type found in grocery stores.

Ron Goldman of Home Grown Hydro Farms in Woodland offers one such organic solution. Since the Vancouver Farmers Market opened in the early 1990s, Goldman has been there every Saturday with locally grown, organic produce.

His one rule is quality.

“If I don’t like it, my customers won’t like it,” Goldman said.

More and more people are switching to organically grown vegetables, saying that they hold more flavor. In the U.S., sales of organic foods have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to more than $26.7 billion in 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2011 Organic Industry Survey. Numbers continue to rise.

“My tomatoes actually taste like tomatoes,” said Goldman. “They don’t have the same shelf life, but they’re a better quality.”

When tomatoes — or any crop — are mass-produced, the priority is a long shelf life, with looks that stay as good as the day a fruit or vegetable was picked. However, to accomplish this, many breeders forfeit flavor.

Goldman’s operation is completely organic. Everything, from the minced coconut husk called “coir” he uses instead of soil to the honeybees he uses to pollinate his plants, is certified organic.

Over his years in business, Goldman has seen demand increasing — not only for his product, but for variety.

“It’s changed a lot since I first started. When I first started doing this, we only sold one type of beefsteak tomato, because people wanted what they recognized.”

Now, his customers are beginning to branch out.

“In ’93, no one would have bought yellow, purple, green tomatoes. Now, they see different types on television, or traveling, and they want them. They want the unique things.”

Because of this, Goldman experiments with growing up to a dozen new types of tomatoes every year.

Every Friday, Goldman spends his six-to-eight-hour workday picking and sorting tomatoes to take to the Vancouver Farmers Market. Originally, Goldman had other farms or family do his growing, but knew he could produce a better crop on his own. In 1993, he built his own greenhouse.

When it first began, the Vancouver Farmers Market was as simple as the name.

“Farmers would come with their goods on Saturdays, throw out a table, and sell,” Goldman recalls. Over two decades, the market has evolved under different ideas and goals. Now, it is a hodgepodge of crafts, food vendors, and music.

The biggest demand is still for fresh produce. If buyers aren’t early enough, they may be out of luck. Goldman quickly sells out, and since he can be away from the greenhouse for just one day, he sells at the market only on Saturdays.

Goldman works hard every day of the week in the greenhouse, starting at sunup, and considers his “day off” each week the day he spends at the Vancouver Farmers Market. He sells to local restaurants and grocers and at the Vancouver Farmers Market.

When the market ends in late October, Goldman cleans out the greenhouse, and then gets to replanting and growing for the beginning of the market and season, in March.

“Most people think I get to take off to Hawaii for five months,” Goldman jokes. “That’s not the case. I can’t just show up in March, magically, with tomatoes. It’s a lot of work, year-round.”