The first tomatoes can be traced to the South American Andes Mountains where they grew wild as cherry-sized berries. Priests following the Spanish conquistadors most likely sent the first seeds to Spain in the early 1500s. The fruit gained little attention in Spain, but soon traveled to Italy—a country that embraced tomatoes with great passion and developed numerous recipes which are still popular today. By the mid-sixteenth century, tomatoes made their return to America via English colonists. They did not become an important part of the American diet, however, until after World War I. 


Tomato plants are planted in the field as seeds or as young plants, called seedlings. If sowing seeds directly into the ground, the farmer sows seeds in late January or early February. If planting by seedling, plants are grown in greenhouses until they are hardy enough to be planted outside in the spring. Tomatoes are ready for harvest between early July and mid-October. To avoid the daytime heat, tomato growers often harvest the crop after sunset. Mechanical harvesters move through fields picking the entire tomato plant and shaking the tomatoes off the vine. Specially designed electronic sensors on the harvesters sort the ripe, red tomatoes from the vine and transfer them into a gondola pulled by a tractor following alongside. They are then stored for certain amounts of time and temperatures depending on the stage of ripeness. 

** Pictures:  tomato plants growing in field and/or greenhouse,  Whole fresh tomatoes

Tomato is a juicy, nutritious fruit commonly eaten as a vegetable. It, is another wonderful gift of the Mayans to the world. This humble vegetable of Central America has seized the attention of millions of health seekers for its incredible nutritional properties. Interestingly, it has more health-benefiting compounds than some popular fruits like an apple! Tomatoes are a naturally low-calorie food. Lycopene, the ingredient that makes tomatoes red, is an antioxidant that blocks cellular damage and is highly effective in preventing cancers. Tomatoes do not lose their health benefits as they are processed and cooked. In fact, lycopene in cooked and processed tomatoes (sauce, paste, salsa, canned tomatoes) is more easily absorbed than fresh tomatoes. This fact, along with their popularity, makes tomatoes a leading nutritional source in the American diet.


There are more than 2,750 genetic varieties of fresh market and processing tomatoes at the Tomato Genetics Stock Center at the University of California, Davis. These varieties have been developed to suit the various growing conditions around the state, taking into account soil type, climate, and disease.



  • Tomatoes have had the largest impact on American eating habits, as they are responsible for enjoying over 12 million tons of tomatoes each year.

  • The first cultivated tomatoes were yellow and cherry-sized, earning them the name golden apples. They were considered poisonous but appreciated for their beauty.


  • Cultivate - Prepare and use land for crops or gardening 

  • Gondola  - A bin pulled by a tractor that catches the tomatoes being harvested 

  • Hardy - Capable of enduring difficult conditions 

  • Seedling - Seeds or young plants 

  • Sowing - Planting the seeds of a plant or crop 

Tomato Aspic Salad

  • 1 3-ounce package strawberry Jello

  • 2 cups tomato juice

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

  • 1 heaping tablespoon pickle relish

  • ½ cup finely chopped celery

  • ½ cup chopped black olives 

Louisiana Farm Bureau Women Cookbook

Turning Tomato

California Ag in the Classroom