The saying goes ‘you are what you eat’, but just how much do you really know about the food you are eating? The term ‘Farm to Fork’ (or ‘Farm to Table’) refers to the stages involved in the production of food: cultivating, harvesting, storage, processing, packaging, sales and end consumption. It is also a ‘movement’ of growing interest. With these stages in mind, consumers are taking an increasingly holistic view towards food; Farm to Fork advocates are promoting the link between farming practices, communities and food production processes to end consumers. Its impact on businesses is palpable, with descriptions such as ‘free range’, ‘organic’ and ‘farm fresh’ used to appeal to consumers.
Restaurants too are allaying concerns regarding the social and environmental impact of their food by promoting sustainable ‘Farm to Fork’ practices; e.g. disclosing the origins of its fish, growing produce on-site or tailoring the menu to what is produced locally and in-season. Terms such as ‘Food Miles’ – the distance food travels from where it is produced to where it is purchased – are now more commonly acknowledged. Similarly, consumers today are far more educated and concerned about the health and wellbeing of farmed livestock.
The tomato is one example of a fruit that is produced locally in Australia, but do you know what’s involved in farming tomato crops before they reach supermarket shelves? Total Food 1 authors, Leanne Compton and Carol Warren, tell us more:
The common round tomato has a thick skin that makes it easy for growers to use mechanical harvesting and packing. They tend to be picked green and are the cheapest to buy. Tomatoes can be expensive to grow. They need fertile soils, and the cost of labour to harvest and pack them can be high, especially if they are picked by hand. Most Australian tomatoes are grown outside, but some varieties are grown undercover in greenhouses.
1. Germinating seedlings
Tomato seeds need warmth, so they are usually germinated in nurseries. After a few weeks, the seedlings have leaves and can be planted outside during the frost-free warmer months.
2. Preparing the soil
Tomatoes need full sun and a fertile soil that has been enriched with compost, manure and/or fertiliser. Greenhouse tomatoes are grown hydroponically in a controlled nutrient solution.
3. Planting seedlings
Seedlings are planted in rows one or two metres apart. The seedlings need to be watered in, and black plastic or a thin layer of mulch is placed around their bases to keep them warm and moist. Tomatoes are natural climbers, and seedlings must be staked. The 2-metre stakes are pushed into the ground near the base of each plant. Growing upwards, the seedlings take up less space and grow away from the damp soil, which can spread disease. New stakes are needed each year as they can harbour fungus.
4. Cultivating the plants
Tomatoes need feeding and daily watering. A regular spray program controls pests and diseases.
Each tomato plant takes between 10 and 12 weeks to mature and bear fruit. Ethylene gas is sometimes used to promote ripening. Trellised tomatoes are typically harvested by hand at two to five day intervals, when the fruit is only just red. Under-ripe, they are firmer and easier to transport. Ground crops of tomatoes are typically harvested in two or three picks when the maximum capacity is in a mature green stage. Careful handling limits bruising.
Green tomatoes are placed in ripening rooms and exposed to ethylene gas.
7. Packing and sorting
In the packing room, tomatoes are checked for quality, weighed, labelled and packaged, before being sent to coolrooms, ready for dispatch.
8. Tomato products
Tomatoes are grown for two markets. Victoria is the major producer for the processed market, while Queensland is the major producer for the fresh market.
Has all this talk of tomatoes made you hungry? Well we have a delicious recipe for you, perfect for the warmer months. Enjoy!
- knife and chopping board
- measuring spoons
- lemon squeezer
- garlic crusher
- wooden spoon
Ingredients – salad
- ½ punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 Lebanese cucumber, thickly sliced
- 1 stalk celery, thickly diagonally sliced
- ½ Spanish onion, sliced
- 2 tablespoons parsley, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons mint, coarsely chopped
- 1 large pita bread
Ingredients – dressing
- juice of ½ lemon
- grated rind of ½ lemon
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- To make the pita chips, preheat oven to 180°C.
- Cut pita bread into bite-size triangle shapes and toast for about 12 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.
- Gently mix tomatoes, cucumber, celery, onion, parsley and mint together.
- Mix dressing ingredients together and pour the dressing over salad ingredients.
- Toss pita chips through the salad (or place on the side) and serve immediately.
Hint: Buy pre-prepared plain pita chips.
Add ½ teaspoon of sumac and ½ teaspoon of sugar to the dressing.
Add ¼ green capsicum to salad ingredients and substitute two roma tomatoes for the cherry tomatoes. Serve with grilled lamb cutlets.
This recipe is taken from Oxford’s forthcoming food technology book, Total Food 2.