Saturday is the biggest day for Jacksonville's famous Tomato Fest and while folks would never know it, tomato farmers faced a few extra challenges with this year's crop.
Most farmers pray for rain but not those that grow tomatoes. Producer Wanda Guinn has been preparing for this year’s 33rd annual Fest since last year’s ended but she said the March rains had her worried.
“When you reach down and you pick a tomato and throw it down, pick a tomato throw it down, it begins to get to you,” she said.
They grade their tomatoes in the field with a 1 being perfect, a 2 being blemished and will be canned, but nothing below that can be used.
“If you have a lot of water you’re going to have a lot of cracked tomatoes and a lot of soft tomatoes,” Guinn said. “We’ll probably lose 10 percent.”
She estimates half of the city’s tomato crop had a 25 percent loss, which is not devastating but hurts after so much investment.
“If you take off a fourth of their tomato crop that’s a good bit,” she said.
Through the challenges, Jacksonville farmers have been growing tomatoes for close to 100 years and Jacksonville Mayor Dick Stone said they know how to do what it takes.
“They know how to grow in good conditions and bad conditions,” Stone said. “Tomorrow the weather won’t be too hot for this time of year so we invite everyone to come out and experience Jacksonville culture. We had over 200 vendors, we’re sold out on vendors, so it should be a great time.”
For now, Jacksonville tomato farmers are praying for a little less rain.
“It’s a good thing the rain stopped when it did,” Guinn said. “It was beginning to get serious.”