Elser’s Country Farms – Extraordinary Tomatoes
By Faith Scarite
Special to the Yucaipa News Mirror
September 7, 2006
 
Yucaipa and Calimesa are small but unique communities. Hidden with are multifaceted gems like Elser’s Country Farm in Yucaipa. They grow thirty varieties of heirloom tomatoes, including Green Zebra, Stripped Germans, Cherokee Purple and Schwartz Sara.

They’re offered for sale at certified farmer’s markets only. They do not sell the tomatoes at the local farm. They’ve been at the same location near Oak Glen Road and 13th Street for 26 years. It’s a County Department of Agriculture certified farm, with chickens and a bounty of the most perfect looking tomatoes you’ve ever seen.

What is an heirloom tomato? It’s a variety that has been passed down through the generations from hundreds of farmers and gardeners around the world. Family heirloom seeds were not commercially produced; they were harvested from the original plants and passed down from one generation to another. There are also commercial heirlooms that are open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940; created heirlooms that were started by crossing two known “parents” and dehybridizing the resulting seed until the undesirable characteristics have been bred out and; mystery heirlooms: varieties that are a product of natural cross pollination of other heirloom varieties. In other words, these are very unique tomatoes – ones you won’t find in our local markets.

Maria and Darrell Elser and their daughter Krystal and her fiancé, John Rominger diligently work the farm themselves. Darrell has a full time job away from the farm, but his off work time is spent on the property at home. Maria quit her 13-year career with the school district to tend to the farm, which at that time held only five or six varieties. It’s grown a lot since then. The majority of available land they have is dedicated to the tomatoes and other produce. They also grow maui onions, heirloom sweet peppers, Japanese seedless cucumbers, heirloom watermelon, pumpkins and more. They plant and care for the land with a great deal of reverence.

Maria plants all the tomatoes from seed – every single one of them. Everything they do on this farm is done with a great deal of consciousness about the land and its use. The farm means a great deal to the family, especially Maria. Her thumb is the greenest. Elser’s Country Farm tomatoes are grown using organic practices although the farm is not 100 percent organic. They use the services of an entomologist to control pests that are not friendly to tomato plants. The right kind of bugs are introduced to the vines to keep them healthy and pest free, rather than chemicals. You can eat the tomatoes right off the vine, all you have to do is dust them off. Sampling some of the different varieties is like tasting fine wines, they all have their own character and flavor. They use mushroom compost and natural fertilizer (some from the horses that have lived on the farm) and till the ground themselves. Their efforts produce up to 1,200 pounds of tomatoes per week.

Harvesting is labor intensive work. The tomatoes are gently hand picked the day of or before a farmer’s market to ensure you get the freshest, vine ripped tomato. They are never picked green and left to ripen on a shelf. These are extremely delicate fruits that require special handling. It takes a great deal of experience to tell the different varieties apart and to know when they’re ripe, especially the ones that stay green. At the farmer’s market where they are sold, prices vary from $3 (for seconds) to $4 per pound. They are worth every penny for the flavor they provide. Some of the tomato varieties grow from one to four pounds per tomato. They are really something to see. One tomato can feed a whole family.

You can purchase Elser’s Country Farm produce and eggs at the Redlands certified farmer’s market on Thursday evenings from 6 pm to 9 pm. The stand is located on State Street between Sixth and Seventh Street. They also sell at Chino, Big Bear, Hollywood, Palos Verdes and Torrance markets. They have a web site, www.elserscountryfarm.com that you can go to obtain more information.