Growing ties (and tomatoes) with Suffolk

Published 10:48 pm Friday, March 25, 2011

While Phoenix the Kalanchoe was my first houseplant, he was not the first plant I killed.

Almost two years ago, I bought a little “Better Boy” variety tomato plant at Home Depot. I plopped the little guy into a container with some dirt that was supposed to be specially formulated to encourage vegetables to grow and then added some water.

I named him Better Bob. You may recall that Bob was the original name of Phoenix. I’m not very creative when it comes to names.

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At first Better Bob seemed to flourish. He grew larger, turned a bright, cheery shade of green that signified health and even sprouted the yellow flowers that eventually would turn into tomatoes.

But poor Bob grew only three tomatoes in his short life. The first was good, but tiny. The second fell off before turning red during a not-so-smooth move to a new apartment.

With just one tomato left, I placed Bob on the back stoop of the new place to soak up the sunlight and encourage the last tomato to grow. You can’t imagine how excited I was when it finally turned the shade of red that signaled it was time to harvest.

I decided to give it one more day of life and spent the rest of that day looking forward to the BLT I would soon enjoy.

But it was not meant to be. When dinner rolled around, I discovered that Bob’s last baby had been stolen.

And so ended my first and last attempt to grow tomatoes.

Now that I’ve finally made peace with my inability to foster a garden, I went on a search for a farm that has a Community Supported Agriculture program, which provides weekly shares of the farm’s crop in exchange for a lump sum paid before the season begins.

In essence, CSA participants become investors in a local farm, and the return on those investments arrives in the form of bags of fresh fruits and veggies.

If you’re unfamiliar with CSAs, don’t worry. I didn’t know they existed until last year. But I’ve since learned that Virginia has an abundance of CSAs.

Without paying attention to where the farms were, I asked for recommendations, looked for reviews and generally surfed the web as I looked for the perfect farm.

Eventually I picked Clayhill Farms for several reasons. First, a former colleague gave the farm’s CSA program a glowing recommendation. Second, it turned out that one of the program’s pick-up points is down the road from my house.

But the surprise for me was where the winning farm was located. As I was filling out the envelope to send in my deposit, I realized with glee that Clayhill is located off Mineral Spring Road in Suffolk.

And that sealed the deal.

You see, a little over a year ago, I was laid off. And a little less than a year ago, my chance to get back in the newspaper business came from Suffolk.

This year, it seems that Suffolk is providing me with another chance: The chance to finally enjoy fresh tomatoes — and much more — without having to worry about killing another plant.