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Fresh from our farmers: Tasty tomatoes in the dead of winter

Last week, about 30 volunteers and I constructed a 64-foot BLT for a Sonoma County Tourism bash.

A BLT in January is a philosophical hurdle for me, as I don't indulge, personally, in a BLT until backyard tomatoes ripen locally. My agreement to orchestrate the sandwich rested on the availability of Parsons Homegrown tomatoes. Would there be enough — or any — by Feb. 4?

Luck was with us. Sun in December and January pushed up the ripening of these hothouse tomatoes, grown in Fulton by Kelley Parsons, and there were plenty for our big 'wich.

The sandwich was a success, a big one.

Throughout the evening, I fielded dozens of questions about the tomatoes. How did I find tomatoes with both aroma and taste in January? If you buy out-of-season supermarket tomatoes, these are a revelation, with true tomato flavor.

Parsons started seeds for red and yellow beefsteaks and cherry tomatoes in September. Of the 1,512 plants that her greenhouse accommodates, 84 are cherry tomatoes, the remainder beefsteaks, with more yellow than in previous years because there has been a lot of demand for them.

She attended her first farmers market of the year on Jan. 15. The farmers market season will conclude when there is a good supply of outdoor-grown tomatoes.

Most Parsons tomatoes go to Rosso Pizzeria and John Ash & Co. restaurant, along with local retailers, including Speers Market in Forestville; Molsberry Market in Larkfield; Shelton's and Big John's markets in Healdsburg and Oliver's Markets in Santa Rosa and Cotati. Parsons also supplies the Redwood Empire Food Bank with fresh tomatoes throughout the summer. She hopes to attend the Healdsburg Farmers Market this year, too, when it opens in May.

The drought has fewer consequences for this style of farming — hydroponic — which may sound counterintuitive. Yet it is recognized as the most efficient method of water conservation and crop viability.

Still, Parsons is searching for ways to become even more efficient with each gallon of water she uses.

Parsons launched Parsons Homegrown in 1994 as a way to work at home while she raised her children and as a way to generate income from her land. Twenty years later, her vision is fully realized and she fills a very specific niche, local tomatoes in the off season, making hundreds of people happy each winter.

Parsons Homegrown is owned and operated by Kelley and Tom Parsons, who their tomatoes at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market on Wednesday and Saturday. The best way to speak with Kelley Parsons about special orders is to visit her market stall.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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