Florida is known for a variety of fresh, diverse produce, growing everything from juicy oranges and grapefruit to ripe bell peppers and snap peas. But two Florida produce crops tend to stand out: tomatoes and sweet corn.
“We produce around 35 percent of the country’s fresh market tomatoes,” says Reggie Brown, marketing, education and promotion, and compliance manager for the Florida Tomato Committee. “We grow 35 million 25-pound boxes from late September through July. The industry is worth about half a billion dollars.”
Tomatoes are produced up and down the peninsula starting in North Florida, rotating down the coast throughout the year. Though the most popular are the recognizable round, field- grown tomatoes, Florida also grows grape, cherry and some Roma tomatoes for fresh market.
Brown notes that along with Florida’s mild climate and sunny rays, the passion and growing community is what makes Florida tomatoes so good.
“They’re absolutely the best field-grown tomato in the country,” he says.
A Slice of Innovation
The DiMare company is a family-owned and -operated growing and packing company founded more than eight decades ago. In 2003, the family established DiMare Fresh as an expansion to the repacking and distribution side of the company. Today, the business owns 16 facilities in eight states, and along with other produce, continues to grow the freshest, tastiest tomatoes at its farm in Ruskin.
“What makes Florida’s tomatoes some of the highest-quality tomatoes in the country is the abundance of favorable weather we receive during the nine-month production period,” Vice President Tony DiMare says.
DiMare Fresh also uses innovative methods to ensure proper care of their tomatoes. The company is a pioneer in the industry in terms of innovation and technology, implementing methods such as frost protection irrigation systems, moisture- sensory computer technology, and a monitored wash system that removes bacteria and pathogens before the tomatoes are sorted.
“We continually look at varietal development as well, to improve quality, disease resistances and flavor,” DiMare says.
Cranking Out Sweet Corn
Along with juicy tomatoes, fresh sweet corn is another staple you’ll find in Florida year round. R.C. Hatton Farms has been growing the vegetable for more than 75 years at their farm near Lake Okeechobee and produces around 2,500 acres per year. They grow all three colors – white, bicolor and yellow.
Paul Allen, general manager and co-owner at R.C. Hatton, says the region’s soil quality has a lot to do with the great quality of the corn.
“Florida sweet corn is grown in muck soils, better known in our community as ‘black gold,’ ” he says.
The soil is protected by the warmth of the nearby lake, which makes it extremely nutrient-rich. Farmers are able to grow year round thanks to the mild winter microclimate created by the lake, which keeps frost at bay, so consumers can enjoy tasty corn on the cob in early spring.
“Florida sweet corn is the first that comes to our country for spring consumption,” Allen says. “We ship around 8 million crates in April and May, or 8,000 truckloads, or 384 million ears of high-quality sweet corn.”
Both Florida tomatoes and sweet corn producers work hard to uphold the state’s reputation of a high-quality product because, ultimately, if it doesn’t taste good, consumers won’t eat it.
“I’m addicted to good tomatoes and good bacon,” Brown says. “A classic BLT with Florida tomatoes is hard to beat.”