If the mantra of the farm to table movement is “you can’t eat tomatoes in February,” Jen Sturmer has another message altogether.
Sturmer, who started a hydroponic tomato business, Hummingbird Farms, in Ridgley more than 30 years ago, produces local, homegrown tomatoes throughout the year. She’s got juicy sliceable beefsteaks, yellow cluster tomatoes, and bright red cherries–as well as all manner of gourmet-friendly heirlooms.
The tomatoes are grown with a soil-free process in greenhouses outfitted with computer-controlled irrigation, temperature and humidity. The process is completely organic, with such methods as predator insects used instead of fertilizer.
While Sturmer has large distribution throughout the eastern seaboard, and distributes herself in Easton and on the western shore, she says, “there’s definitely room for more exposure on the Eastern Shore.”
Chesapeake Harvest has stepped up to help get the word out. Recently, Deena Kilmon, CH sales and marketing director, used Sturmer’s produce for a demonstration at the new Chesapeake Harvest market at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville. Kilmon is also helping Hummingbird find its way to new markets in the expanding restaurant scene on the shore.
“Reminding our customers that Hummingbird is available when our field tomatoes are not is market knowledge we continue to impart on chefs.” says Kilmon. “They love that the product is local, fresh and consistently high quality.”
Indeed, local distribution has many advantages, Sturmer says. “There’s a much smaller carbon footprint if things aren’t being trucked from California or Florida.” Furthermore, she points out, small distributors mean both careful handling and a short travel time, so produce doesn’t need refrigeration. Plus, she says, “we can keep the tomatoes hanging on the vine until they’re ripe.”
“Chesapeake Harvest has a great plan,” she says. “I’d love to see it succeed, and I’m trying to do anything I can to help.”