Fans of Arkansas grown and harvested tomatoes, rejoice. The first box of the season has been delivered.
On Wednesday, members of the Hamilton family, owners of Hamilton Farms, brought a box of freshly-harvested tomatoes in to the Bradley County Cooperative Extension Service office in Warren. Hamilton Farms is located in the nearby Marsden community. They farm about 15 acres of tomatoes, as well as watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, zucchini, cucumber and a variety of peppers.
John Gavin, Bradley County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said that while there’s no cash prize or medal for bringing in the first box of tomatoes each summer, growers take the competition seriously nonetheless.
“It signifies that the season is about to open for vine-ripened tomatoes,” Gavin said. “Whoever brings in the first box, they simply get the publicity and the honor of it. And it lets everyone know that in the next five to seven days, we’re going to have more tomatoes ready to ripen and come off the vine.”
The tomatoes were brought in by Don Hamilton, his son Steele, and his grandson David Slade Hamilton.
Overall, about 400-500 acres of tomatoes are grown and harvested in Bradley County each year, with approximately 300 more acres grown in neighboring Ashley and Drew counties. Statewide, Arkansas harvested 952 acres of tomatoes in 2017, according to the 2019 Arkansas Agriculture Profile.
Bradley County is also home to the South Arkansas Vine Ripe pink tomato, which is both the Arkansas state fruit and the Arkansas state vegetable. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 64th annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, originally scheduled for June 12-13, has had to cancel most of its public events.
Gavin said tomatoes bring in about $8 million in receipts to the tri-county area each year.
“It’s may not be much compared to the row crops counties, but it’s a real economic shot in the arm for us,” he said. “It’s a nice chunk of change down here.”