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Heirloom tomatoes gather Grinnell families, dogs, students

By Tessa Cheek

The Heirloom Tomato Tasting Festival at the Grinnell Heritage Farm was held last Sunday for all those who imagined a tomato was anything other than a fruit. The event boasted no fewer than 10 different kinds of tomatoes—ranging from the purple and sweetly tangy “Black from Tula,” to the succulent red and yellow striped “Speckled Roman.”

Attendees at the Heirloom Tomato Festival slice up tomatoes of all varieties. Photograph by Chris Barbey.
Attendees at the Heirloom Tomato Festival slice up tomatoes of all varieties. Photograph by Chris Barbey.

The heirloom tasting began in 2009, according to Melissa Dunham, co-owner of the farm with husband Andrew Dunham.

“We noticed when we [first] did this in August, we didn’t have as many college students coming,” M. Dunham said. “So we pushed it back.”

College students did attend the event, not just as tasters but also as entertainers. Ethan Kenvarg ’12, Graciela Guzman ’12, Mark Mercier ’11 and Katie In ’13 provided music.

To the tune of Guzman’s take on Amy Winehouse, packs of kids chased each other across bails of hay and over rolling, wind-blown hills. Attendants pulled children and vegetables alike in red wagons, and family dogs had the run of the place.

The event further celebrated all things bucolic in a farm tour. A. Dunham provided a history of the farm (which has been in an original and extended Grinnell family for over five generations) and led visitors from one patch to another, telling tales of the family’s farming adventures. Most memorably, Dunham wistfully remembered last summer’s heavy rains which had the farmers extracting 10 pound sweet potatoes that took over three hours to bake in the oven.

But the event wasn’t all veggies tales. Attendees each came with their own dish for a massive local-foods oriented community potluck.
“There’s a lot of really good cooks,” M. Dunham said. “Foodie potlucks are the best.”

Amongst the offerings were two square feet of homemade sushi, countless loaves of just-baked bread and that unspeakably delicious combination of basil, mozzarella and golden tomato—all on a stick for easy grazing.

“We’ll definitely do this again,” M. Dunham said.

Students interested in taking part in the Heirloom Tasting Festival, or with the Grinnell Heritage Farm in general, should start thinking of recipes for next fall, or better yet visit the farm’s website at

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