Many of us know there is nothing better than a fresh tomato sandwich on a hot, summer day. Tomatoes are now in season in our area and are often included with many of our summer cookouts and meals.

North Carolina ranks ninth nationally in tomato production, growing 96 million pounds of tomatoes in 2018. Although tomato production is across the entire state, most tomato production in North Carolina occurs in the western part of the state with Henderson County being N.C.’s top tomato-producing county (NCSU, 2018). An estimated 3,000 acres of tomatoes were planted in N.C. in 2017 with a value of $41,794 (NCDA, 2018). In 2012, N.C. counted 1,496 farms growing tomatoes to sell.

When looking at the United States, the top three tomato producing states are California, Florida and Indiana. Worldwide, China is the largest producer of tomatoes, with the U.S. coming in second and India third.

Tomatoes grown for production are either grown in the field or in a greenhouse. Field tomatoes are typically planted as the chance of a spring frost ends, around mid-April in Wayne County, and are grown through September and even into October, depending on how early we get a first fall frost. Greenhouse tomatoes are often grown to allow growers to extend the tomato season and to have tomatoes available for an extended time during the year.

Since a tomato has seeds and grows from a flowering plant, it actually should be classified as a fruit instead of a vegetable. Originally tomatoes came from Peru and were first brought to Europe in the mid-1500s. There are more than 10,000 tomato varieties grown around the world. Several popular varieties were developed through N.C. State University’s tomato breeding program, including Mountain Pride, Mountain Fresh and Mountain Spring.

Tomatoes can be harvested after the fruit color begins to change but before it is fully ripe. Do not refrigerate tomatoes but instead allow them to ripen fully indoors at room temperature. Tomatoes will finish ripening on your kitchen counter if they were not fully ripe when picked. Light is not necessary for ripening mature tomatoes.

If you are looking for where to purchase fresh, local tomatoes, be sure to stop by the Farm Credit Farmers Market. The market is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market is located behind the Maxwell Center at 3114 Wayne Memorial Drive.

To celebrate tomato season, the Farm Credit Farmers Market will be holding a Tomato Day on Friday. We will be having a favorite tomato recipe contest for those who have a delicious dish featuring tomatoes that is blue ribbon worthy! The contest is open to all ages. Entries will be received from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. The recipe must include at least 1 cup of tomatoes. Contestants must be present during the contest and may enter more than one recipe. The recipe must be homemade, prepared at home, and presented ready to serve three to four judges. Recipes must be presented with the entry as the first-place winning recipe will be published in local media outlets.

Along with a tomato recipe contest, Michelle Estrada, Wayne County Extension Family and Consumer Science agent, will offer a food demonstration to give ideas for a new recipe featuring tomatoes to try along with samples of the featured recipe.

Be sure to include fresh, local tomatoes with your summer meals and celebrate tomato season by attending Tomato Day at the Farm Credit Farmers Market on Friday.

Got gardening questions? We can help! Contact the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. One can reach the plant clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, email at, or stopping by the Wayne County Extension Office at the Maxwell Regional Agricultural and Convention Center, 3114B Wayne Memorial Drive.

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Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.