On being too big

I believe the recent Late Blight scare on the East Coast has far greater implications than most of us realize. While no one is saying that Bonnie Plants did anything wrong, the fact is their nursery shipped tomatoes infected with the blight. It may have originated in the greenhouses, or after the plants left the greenhouses, it doesn’t matter. Potentially thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people and their gardens could be affected. Bonnie appears to have done the right thing in alerting authorities, and pulling plants from the shelves. The wet weather in the North East has certainly worsened things, providing the right conditions for the spread of the disease. Yet, unlike many regional problems that occur from weather or insects, this could have been a man made or exacerbated problem.

This year, more than ever people planted what might be called “Victory Gardens”. For some it’s a pursuit of pleasure, for others a necessity. Either way we are growing food to eat, and without success some won’t eat as well. Imagine planting your tomato crop, only to have to pull it too late to replant. That’s what’s going on. In addition the disease has spread from home gardens to some commercial farms. This could have far reaching implications on peoples ability to buy locally produced, safe food.

Bonnie is a company with an interesting history, and a good track record, or they wouldn’t have grown to become the main supplier of vegetables to the box stores. This Late Blight concern is not so much a story about Bonnie, but rather what happens when we depend on one supplier for hundreds of stores. When something goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way. Any grower could find themselves in this situation. We have a grower near here that was suspected of having infected tomatoes, and was told not to ship any tomatoes until the problem was solved. This was quite scary as we we’re in the middle of the tomato selling season, and could affect how our business did this year. Fortunately we have other local suppliers, so we went to them while the problem was worked out. Turns out it was a false alarm. At least we had other growers to fall back on.

The Box stores, due to their shear size have come to depend on suppliers that have the resources to supply them. What with the recent bankruptcy of Hines nursery, Bordiers nursery, and others, the choices of  who they can do business with shrinks. So now we have just a few suppliers, providing much of greenery for a huge chunk of the gardening market. What happens if something gets into the production chain and is spread all through the country? Potentially you could have a serious impact on the homeowners ability to supply food for the family.

These kinds of issues are why it’s important for us to stay smaller, with more local producers who can cover some of the shortages if they occur.  Any other year is might be seen as an inconvenience to be without tomatoes for the season, but with food shortages showing up, and the public’s desire to grow their own, it’s more than an inconvenience. It could affect how, and what we eat this year or next.

About Trey Pitsenberger

Trey is a nurseryman, author, and speaker.

13. July 2009 by Trey Pitsenberger
Categories: , , , , | 5 comments

Comments (5)

  1. Is it true that vendors are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the plants and displays at certain big box stores? If a vendor is forced to have a person running around, watering plants and straightening out displays all day throughout a region, that person may not have the time to look closely for a disease problem in its early stages. Another reason why store personnel should be trained to spot problems before they can spread. Yeah, right. Like the big box store near me where the employee cigarette break area was adjacent to a tomato plant display….

  2. Pingback: Why Garden Writing Isn’t Investigative : Doug Green’s Blog

  3. Every plant I bought from my locally grown heirloom plant guy wound up with aphids. Every single one. Problems happen at all levels, it’s how you deal with them that counts.

  4. Every grower at some point runs into a “blight/bug” problem. The outcome of a small grower running into a problem is that sphere of influence caused by a small grower is much smaller than that of a nation wide grower.

    The same thing happens with illnesses that now traverse the world in hours rather than months.

    The answer is localism…….. Now is the time to stop beating the drum of localism and actually do something about it.

  5. It was the authorities, starting in New York, who allerted each other and the press. Bonnie heard about it from them and from the stores the Ag Departments or Extension Services visted.