Juicy, sweet tomatoes lined our railing, ripening in the strong sun with dirt still caked on them from the garden. The earthy, sweet smell of fresh tomatoes surrounded the sunny deck at my parent’s home every summer, thanks to their sizable garden. Once they looked good and ripe, I would bring them inside and wash them for my mom to cut up or can for the winter. My family put a lot of sweat and hard work into their garden, but even so, we had years when the harvest was too small to process. Knowing how difficult it can be to grow even a few plants, I wondered what it takes to grow and process the billions of pounds of tomatoes our food system uses each year. I turned to Campbell’s chief tomato officer, Dr. Daniel Sonke to learn how our farmers grow high quality tomatoes for millions.
“As it has for centuries, farming runs on an annual cycle,” explains Dr. Sonke, who grew up on a farm himself. Tomato harvest ends in October and by November, we start planning for the next year’s crops. Campbell’s agriculture team predicts sales of products like Tomato Soup, Pace® Salsa, V8® Vegetable Juice, and Prego® Sauces and determines how much tomato ingredients we will need. Our team then secures seeds that will yield sweet, high quality tomatoes and are appropriate for various weather and soil conditions.
Once we have our seeds and varieties, we meet with each one of our 50 family farmers to contract our crops. These farmers commit to producing a crop for Campbell on a specific harvesting schedule. The farmers determine how many plants they need and when they need to go into the ground to meet our harvest schedule. Many of our growing partners have worked with Campbell for generations.
Sustainable Growing Practices
Farmers large and small have a responsibility to use sustainable growing practices. Sustainability is important for the planet and the future of our food. “Resources such as water are increasingly stressed by population demands. Sustainable practices reduce this stress to ensure future generations have access to them.” Campbell tomato farmers carefully track their pesticide usage and report on how much they apply, how often, and the last date of application. Campbell uses this information to ensure our tomatoes meet our strict growing policies. In fact, I learned from Dr. Sonke that Campbell’s policies around pesticide usage are more restrictive than even the California’s Environmental Protection Agency, which are already the strictest in our country.
Most of our tomatoes are grown in California, so responsible use of water is very important. Sixty-nine percent of our tomato acres now use drip irrigation to water the crop. Instead of watering the entire tomato field surface, drip irrigation provides just the right amount of water directly to the roots. This method uses less water to grow healthy, delicious tomatoes.
Good Relationships from Seed to Shelf
Good growing practices and thoughtful planning are fundamental to our food system, but strong relationships are the secret ingredient to success. Our seed companies need us to purchase their seeds, we need our farmers to grow our crops, our processing plants need a steady supply of tomatoes and a reliable workforce, and our retailers rely on us to deliver high quality foods that their customers demand. Every step in this process requires collaboration and strong, working relationships. Campbell’s success depends on the success of our suppliers, farmers, and workers. “Fostering good relationships goes a long way. It is what helps us meet supply needs even during tough crop seasons” explains Dr. Sonke.
I will not be growing tomatoes by the ton anytime soon, but I did learn how I can improve on my own little garden:
- Pick the Perfect Spot: Tomatoes like the sunshine, so I moved my plants to get full sunlight this year.
- Garden Sustainably: We installed a rain barrel to collect rain water that can be used each week for my tomato plants.
- Be Nice to Your Neighbor: You never know the next time your garden will be nibbled down by a bunny or invasive bug. Share your harvest with friends and family and hope that they will do the same for you!
Dr. Sonke's BioDan Sonke grew up working on his family's almond farm near Ripon, California. An expert on environmental issues in agriculture, Dan has previously served as Assistant Integrated Pest Management Coordinator for the University of Florida, Director of Science for Protected Harvest, and Senior Scientist for SureHarvest, Inc. His Doctorate in Plant Medicine (D.P.M.) is a cutting edge professional degree in crop health management from the University of Florida. He has developed sustainable agriculture programs for fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and nuts, including the California Almond Sustainability Program. In a reverse twist on the soup-to-nuts approach, he was hired in 2011 by Campbell Soup Company as Manager of Agriculture Sustainability Program to develop the company’s approach to sustainability in agriculture. In 2016, he became Director of Sustainable Agriculture, with global responsibility for agriculture sustainability at Campbell. In this role, he works with vegetable farmers and other ingredient suppliers to track, encourage and enable sustainability progress. He also serves as a resource for the company on agricultural issues.
Lindsay’s BioLindsay is a nutrition communications analyst at the Campbell Soup Company where she coordinates health professional and consumer communications. She also works with internal and external partners on retail health and wellness programs. Prior to her role at Campbell, Lindsay worked as an in-store retail dietitian. She received her Bachelors of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and completed her dietetic internship with Pennsylvania State University. Currently, Lindsay is studying for her masters of science in Health Communications and Marketing with Boston University.