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Farmer Cass’s Killer Tomatoes

As we get ready for the 9th Annual Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival, benefiting Georgia Organics, on Sunday, July 16, we wanted to highlight some of the farmers who make the delicious meals possible with their hard work in the fields.

In this edition, we spoke with Farmer Cass Fraunfelder of Finch Creek Farm in Winder, Georgia, who shared a beautiful tribute to organic farming and tomatoes.

This is my sixth year farming. We purchased the land in March 2011 in Barrow County by the Jackson County line. In 2013, I retired at the age of 43 to go out farming full time. Before that I was in skilled trades most of my life, and spent four years in the military. The work ethic is there, the drive is there, the patience is there. It’s a commitment, like having a kid. You’ve got to take care of it, you’ve got to be there, and you can’t expect it to just do its thing. If you lose it, you lose it. You don’t you look back, you just go out and put more seeds in the ground. You can’t worry about stuff. You’re at the mercy of the weather. You just do the best you can.

I spent several years of my childhood and teenage years with my grandfather on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin. The work ethic got instilled in me. Every day was something different. You’d have a tornado rip through, you’d have to cut down trees that had fallen on fences. It’s a never-ending occupation. You never get caught up. A lot of people would get frustrated with that, but for me, it’s a challenge.

Four years ago, we had over 4,500 tomato plants: heirlooms, indeterminate, determinate, cherries, beefsteaks and Brandywines. I bet we lost 60-70 percent of our crop because you’ve got to babysit them every day. This week I just noticed the Colorado potato beetle was on my tomato plants—I’ve never seen that before!  So out comes the neem oil in between the rains. But you’re not going to find a chemical in my soil– we’ve had breast cancer too many times in my family.

What people need to know most about organic food is that it’s the only way we ever grew anything until people got greedy.

Organic farming has been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years. Up until in 1978 you never called it organic, it’s just how you did it. Then it was all money, big chemical companies. These chemicals are not going to leave the soil, they stay there for a long time. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, the boll weevil would eat the crap out of cotton plants all over the state, and they were using a chemical called DDT, and that stuff is still in the ground in some places, 50 years later.

We need to inform the public and talk about it with others. The friends and the family and the neighbors we have are all versed in this, because I’ve got a big mouth and I won’t let them do it the other way. What you’re doing growing organically is saving lives. I tell people at the farmers market, “I’ll come over to your house and show you how to do this!” I’m a nut about this stuff. When you market organic food, the end result is you’re saving someone’s life.

This will be my third Killer Tomato Festival. It’s a great way to meet the industry in Atlanta. One of the other things I really enjoy about the Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival is that the restaurant pays for me and my wife to go and we go drink beer!

This year I’m paired up with Chef Joey Ward at Gunshow again– last year, we won! It was pretty amazing. This year I’m also paired up with St. Cecelia, Optimist, Venkman’s, and State of Grace. I’m growing Butterboys, Romas, black cherry, white cherry, a deep purple one, Sungolds, and the Medford, an 8-12 ounce sandwich tomato from High Mowing Seeds in Vermont.

I think the farm to table movement is growing at a moderate speed. I tell farmers all the time, I wish there were more farmers. There are something like 3,500 restaurants in Atlanta, and there are about 20 of us farmers going down there and selling our product. You can’t have enough farmers.

I tell restaurant owners I can boost their profit margins by bringing in Certified Naturally Grown vegetables and they can promote it on the chalkboard. Customers care about this. I say, “After a month, if you haven’t seen results, I’ll quit coming here.” And it has worked.

Having these relationships with chefs is priceless. It’s one step in the right direction for getting the message out to the people who are going and eating at the restaurants. I don’t have someone going to Atlanta to make deliveries, I do it in person so I can have face-to-face and answer any questions the chef has. You’re not selling the farm, you’re selling the farmer. When you go and have these conversations, the chefs want to come visit the farm and see it. It happens all the time. Also the mixologists, beverage directors, servers, the dishwashers—they’ll bring the whole staff and we feed them and make a day out of it.

I try not to go in the front door when dropping stuff off for the kitchen; 365 days a year, I wear a pair of overalls. When I sometimes have to go in the front, people drop their utensils and give me a stare. I’ll walk over and stop at the table and say, “Can I help you? I’m the farmer bringing in the food that’s on your plate! You’re eating farm food!” They love it!

 

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