Before working at the greenhouse in FoCo, I didn’t understand people’s obsession with tomatoes. I still don’t understand WHY people are like this, the plants are fussy and unpleasant to work with and tomatoes taste like concentrated mouth sores to me, but as least now I have some inkling of the depths of madness edible nightshades can drive people to*. I watched a pair of octogenarian women get in a fistfight over the last Amish Paste we had that week, another man break down in tears over the fact we were out of Mortgage Lifters until next Teusday, and my own manager wax poetic about recent developments in hybridization.
*I could understand if it was Potatoes, THOSE are amazing
The greenhouse I worked at grew ours in-house, to the tune of four long arched green houses and 40 different breeds of tomato, started in February and staggered to last most of the season. We sold something to the tune of ten thousand mature plants per season, and four times that in starters, the manager explained with pride, the two anatolian-ridgeback mixes drooling happily on my leg during employee orientation.
“Who buys That Many tomatoes?” I asked, naieve.
My manager’s dark laughter should have been a warning.
During one of the hailstorms in late May, the greenhouse was, briefly, blessedly deserted, if deafeningly loud as the sky hurled balls of ice onto the cheap plastic roof. My manager had left early that afternoon and so I was left to manage that fifth of the business largely unattended. I was watering the Fucking Tomatoes when two of the roundest miniature Australian shepherds I’ve ever seen appeared at my feet, wheezing happily. Looking up, I found a pair of equally gleeful humans behind them, sun-burnt and wearing matching Jimmy Buffet shirts.
“WE’D LIKE SOME TOMATOES.” The man bellowed over the roar of hail.
“WE HAVE MANY TOMATOES.” I shouted back, gesturing at the wall of tomatoes behind me.
“GREAT!” howled the woman. “CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THEM? WE’VE NEVER DONE TOMATOES BEFORE.”
Since I was alone, I spent the next forty-five minutes screaming the attributes of all forty breeds of tomato at them, unable to hear myself speak over the rain, hail and wind, and already dissociating from the noise. I have no idea what I actually said to these people. I might have claimed they were bred on the moon. We got to the end, my throat raw, and fat little Aussies drooling on my shoes.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT MARIE?” The man asked.
“I DON’T KNOW, THEY ALL SOUND EXCELLENT.” Marie considered. “LETS GET THEM ALL HOWARD.”
“GOOD IDEA. WE’LL TAKE FIVE OF EACH.” said Howard.
That’s 200 plants and at $10 a pop, $2000 dollars worth of tomatoes. Why. I get the extra-large cart out and start loading the tomatoes on. How. I wonder as It takes me three lumber carts to get them all up to the register to scan them.
“WE’RE FROM CASPER.” Howard said, like that would explain anything. “THE BIG BLUE HOUSE, YOU CAN SEE IT FROM 25.”
Having driven through that part of Wyoming several times to and from Grand Teton, I actually knew about the house in question. “OH YES. WE USE THAT HOUSE TO KNOW WE’RE HALFWAY TO TETON AND TO GET LUNCH.”
“YOU SHOULD STOP BY NEXT TIME YOU’RE AROUND.” said Marie.
“OKAY.” I said, for some reason, and helped them out to the parking lot where I discoved they’d apparently driven down in an actual Short Bus, modified to be a sort of camping vehicle, with seatbelts and custom dog-beds for the Fat Aussies, apparently named “Florence” and “Mashmallow”. I waved cheerfully to them, ears ringing and white lights flashing in my eyes from the continuous noise and feeling like I’d stepped out of my correct timeline. I found one of the other managers and told them I’d just made them $2k, had a migraine and was going home.
A month and a half later, the seasonal job had ended and I was driving to Washington to see a friend and I happened to be passing through Casper. In need of a break and eternally curious, I decided to try to find the Big Blue House and see if any of the tomatoes had survived. It took me a bit to find the correct frontage road but as I was driving by the front yard-
“[REDACTED] HOW ARE YOU?” bellowed Marie. somehow spotting and recognizing me. “I’M SO GLAD YOU CAME, COME SEE THEM!”
Apparently they just talk like that all the time, but I had a lovely half hour in which Marie and Howard took me on a lovely tour of their experimental self-sustaining farm with the trout pond and chickens and the 200-still-alive-and-apparently-thriving tomato plants. Given that tomatoes are happiest when hydrated But suffering, Casper turned out to be a good choice. They’d also gotten some 30 varieties of corn, 15 types of potatoes and 12 types of carrots and Howard was looking into Beans and Squash for next year.
“IT WAS VERY NICE OF YOU TO COME OUT.” said Howard. “HERE, HAVE SOME HAM.”
I thanked them, took my three pounds of sustainably-farmed Loud People Ham, and excused myself as I still had to get to Bozeman by that evening and they waved me goodbye from the driveway.