Last summer my dad would show up at my door periodically with a box of the best tomatoes I'd ever tasted. All he could tell me was that his friend Jimmy drove down to Holly Springs, Mississippi to pick them up whenever he got the call that the tomatoes were ripe and the farmer would be picking that day. This past Sunday Jimmy got the call that the first tomatoes of the summer were ready, so my dad and I hitched a ride with Jimmy down to Holly Springs. It was there that I met the man who has mastered the tomato: Brad Carpenter.
Mr. Carpenter sells his 'supernova' and 'jet star' tomatoes and other home-grown vegetables out of a small stand that sits between his two vegetable fields on Carpenter Road. He is a fourth-generation farmer who speaks poetically about the sun, seed, and soil. He and his family work the fields by hand, tying up each vine and waiting patiently for the fruit to become ripe enough to pick. He does not irrigate or use pesticides, and every drop of water that nourishes the plants is rained down by God himself. Mr. Carpenter told me that he doesn't care about high yields. He treats his plants in a way that will produce the best tasting fruit, not the most fruit. He let me know that a plant that struggles in the soil is better for it in the end.
He was kind enough to take me on a tour through his fields. I was endlessly astounded by his depth of knowledge of the land and his innate ability to turn Mississippi soil into delicious food. As we walked, he pulled potatoes from the ground, allowed me to taste the roma tomatoes he was trying out, and picked a dozen squash blossoms right off the vine. These ended up on my plate only a few hours later. As we walked back toward the stand, his father pulled up in a red pick-up truck and handed him a pail of freshly picked blackberries to sell. It almost goes without saying that I took a few of those off of his hands as well.
Tomatoes are my favorite food and Mr. Carpenter raises the best around. Without people like him and his family we would all be damned to eating those flavorless, red orbs they try to pass of as tomatoes in most grocery stores. So, next time you are down in Holly springs to take your friends to Graceland II, stop by and see Brad Carpenter, buy a few pounds of his home-grown tomatoes, and thank him for what he does.