It’s planting season in Northeast Ohio, and Tim Smith of Community Greenhouse Partners (CGP) is ready to help people get their gardens started with more than 1,000 heirloom tomato plants.SaveSaveSaveSave
The staff at CGP—which specializes in bringing organic produce to Cleveland’s food deserts—planted 2,000 organic heirloom tomato seeds in early March, making a “significant investment” in a new grow room just for the tomatoes, according to Smith.
Smith decided to plant the seeds after he heard that Justin Husher, owner of Old Husher’s Farm (4790 W. 130th St.) opted not to grow this season because of work obligations. Old Husher’s Farm is well-known for its tomato starts, and Smith felt he could help fill in the blanks.
“[Husher] used to be the tomato guy,” says Smith. “He passed the torch to us, and we've tried to do our best to follow in that [tradition]. So, Justin and I spent many hours pouring over seed catalogs and talking about what varieties do well in our climate.”
Now Smith has more than 40 different tomato varieties, far beyond the classic beefsteak and early girl varieties. He grows a rainbow of colors—from yellow to pink to purple to even black—and selections include Coir di Bue (an “oxheart” variety that grows to be 12 ounces), the oft-coveted San Marzanos, and the spotted-and-striped Berkley Tie Dye.
“It’s so visibly appealing with a stronger flavor that so good you can eat it like an apple,” Smith says of the Berkley Tie Dyes. “These are not your beefsteak GMO tomatoes. They’re 10 times better than anything you get in the store.”
Smith argues that his tomatoes are better because they are heirlooms, which grow better and are tastier even if they are not uniform in size, shape, and growing times.
“They taste better because they are better,” he says. “The big boys [and] the early girls [at the grocer] all look really pretty, but they are full of water and don’t have the flavor the heirlooms have. Those are bred for shelf life, resistance to disease, and to look good.”
In addition, Smith says he will have pepper starts—12 varieties in everything from bell peppers to spicy jalafuegos and “say cheese” stuffing peppers—in about two weeks. Other starts available include cilantro, lettuce, patty pan squash, and mustard greens. There's also a salad blend of lettuce that contains soft romaine, spicy Asian mustard greens, and lamb’s quarter. “They’re very different, flavorful greens,” he says of the salad mix.
CGP grows year-round in its greenhouses and hoop houses, so Smith is quick to point out he is always a resource for fresh produce. “We are actively growing in our hoops and greenhouse [in] rain, shine, snow, sleet,” he laughs. “We have greens, vegetables, all sorts of things that are fresh, lovely, and need to be eaten.”
The tomato starts sell for $3 each, three plants for $8, or six plants for $15. “Buy more, and I’ll take more off,” Smith says, adding that he still has 1,400 plants left. “I’ll go as low as $2 a plant if someone buys enough.” Delivery is also available for larger orders.
Contact Smith to order tomato starts, or just stop by CGP. Smith and the CGP staff sell their produce at their regular spot at the Coit Road Farmers Market, which is open every Saturday morning year-round; at the Tremont Farmers’ Market on Tuesday afternoons; at the Lakewood Earth and Food Community (LEAF) Community Farmers’ Market on Thursdays; and at the Slavic Village Market on Monday afternoons and Kamm’s Corners Farmers Market on Sundays (once both markets open in June). CGP microgreens are also available at Zagara's Marketplace in Cleveland Heights.