Grainger County Tomato Fest

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Rutledge (WVLT) -- Folks may stay for the arts, the crafts, and the conversation, but we all know the reason to head to Rutledge in the dead heat of July is to pick up some Grainger County's tomatoes.

"Come and get more Grainger County Tomatoes, they're the best in the world," said Steve Longmire, a tomato grower.

Rain or shine, Grainger County's 14th Annual Tomato Festival, is part Farmer's Market and part reunion.

"Not nearly all of them participate, but the ones that do, we have a good time," Longmire said about his fellow growers. "A lot of people you don't see but one time a year."

And in case you wondered how the harvest would be effected by this years dry weather, the growers were there to assuage that worry.

"I've had a good crop," said Darell Stratton, another tomato grower, "as good a crop as I've ever had,"

Despite, or maybe even because of the drought.

"Actually, during the dry season we can grow a better quality tomato than we can during a wet season," said Kim Stratton, a tomato grower

"About all of us tomato growers have irrigation," said Longmire, "therefore it doesn't affect us nearly as much as it would the homeowners
or others who don't have a source of water."

"You won't have as much cracking and as much vine damage that's caused from the vines getting too much water and being wet all the time," said Stratton.

Taste is the true test, but when Grainger growers are already picking some as big softballs, its a good sign that a little water always helps.

"It's the second week that we've had quite a bit of rain," said Longmire, "so it's really making things come out."

Still, the drought has done its damage.

"Our hay crops and our cattle and grazing, it's been devastating," said Stratton. " Most people are having to sell cattle, they don't have
enough hay, and we're in the same position, we've sold several cows already."

Farmers Stratton and Longmire says Grainger County's received more rain this last week than in the 8 or 9
weeks before.

That bodes better for the market, but not so much for the picking.

"If it wants to slack up right now, it would be all right, so we can get into the fields a little bit easier," Longmire said.

The rain certainly has made a difference in one of the festivals more popular traditions.

It provided for a lot more slipping and sliding, in yesterday's "rotten tomato" wars.

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