Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tomato Industry

Last time I wrote about the apple industry in the Ozarks during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The tomato industry was also very important to the Ozarks economy in years past, although the peak of the tomato industry came a little bit later than the peak of the apple industry. Tomato growing and canning as a commercial enterprise began in the Ozarks sometime in the 1890s or thereabouts, reached a peak during the 1920s and 1930s, tailed off dramatically around the time of World War II, and died out completely around the 1950s or 1960s.
The tomato industry arose in the Ozarks primarily because growing tomatoes was well suited to small farms such as those in the Ozarks on which a variety of crops were grown. Tomato canning factories, most of them family owned or otherwise small in scope, popped up all over the place. Almost every community of any size had a canning factory, and tomatoes were sometimes called the "red gold of the Ozarks."
Fair Grove, the small town where I grew up, once had a canning factory. When I was growing up there during the 1950s, an old, ramshackle building that had formerly housed the factory still stood, but it had been abandoned a number of years earlier. In fact, I believe my friend and fellow writer Marilyn Smith, a lifelong resident of Fair Grove, may have written an article a number of years ago for The Ozarks Mountaineer about Fair Grove's tomato canning operation.
There were a number of reasons why growing tomatoes as a commercial industry died out in the Ozarks. The main reason was the simple fact that the small farms on which a variety of crops were grown began to die out or be replaced by more specialized farms. Also, as the machinery at the canning factories became obsolete or needed repair, many canners could not afford to update. In addition, the Ozarks began to lag behind places like California, where large, flat farms and moderate temperatures allowed for growing tomatoes in large quantities almost year round.
Today, many small farmers in the Ozarks still grow tomatoes and sell what their own families cannot consume. But most of these are usually small-scale operations in which the tomatoes are sold along the roadside or at farmers' markets rather than large-scale operations in which tomatoes are shipped to other parts of the country as they were during the heyday of the tomato industry in the Ozarks.

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