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Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer Paperback – July 14, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a back-to-nature move more than a decade ago, Stark uprooted a handful of heirloom tomato seedlings from his Brooklyn brownstone and returned to Eckerton Hill, his Pennsylvanian boyhood home, to harvest two acres of multicolored oddities. From Mennonite country to New York City, using a rusted Toyota pickup, he transported his first auspicious crop of Hill Billies, Tiger Toms and Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifters to the Union Square Greenmarket, becoming the unlikely purveyor of apples to heirloom aficionados and Michelin-starred chefs. An amateur farmer with finite experience in organic farming and a rotating cast of weed-pulling hands, Stark takes on hornworms, groundhogs, cantankerous neighbors and route I-78, producing cover-worthy tomatoes for Gourmet, Brooklyn-bound sugar snaps and chocolate habaneros for discriminating farmers' market cognoscenti. With his produce and dogged perseverance, Stark bridges the gap between New York's posh kitchens and the sun-drenched fields of the rural countryside, commenting along the way on buzzwords like organic, the effects of urban sprawl, and farming's changing landscape. His recounting of fly-by-night agricultural tactics, stomach-turning worries and relief-inducing bumper crops paints a poignant picture of a dwindling form of American life. Through his urbane relationships with the Bouleys and Bouluds and pastoral friendships with the likes of fellow berry, pea shoot and haricot vert producers, he illustrates the unlikely bond between the tomato-laden farm and the urban table. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"With succulent wit, [Stark] conveys the poetry of a well-grown tomato." —Entertainment Weekly

"Heirloom...is an instant classic of gentleman farmer literature." —Carly Berwick, Bloomberg.com

"Tim Stark is a natural-born storyteller—funny, poignant, and unerringly authentic. Charming with a capital C.”
—John Grogan, author of Marley & Me

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (July 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767927079
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767927079
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Heirloom: Notes From an Accidental Tomato Farmer is the bestselling book at my local coffeehouse in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. It is the only book for sale at the Uptown. The author is a farmer who grows the vegetables they use in their savory soups and salads. Last week, along with the tomatoes and red beets, Tim Stark delivered a case of books. I picked up a copy of out of curiosity. I am not much of a gardener, no gourmet, never even pause on the food channel, but found this book to be quite extraordinary.

Did you see the YouTube video of the elephant painting a picture? The elephant holds a brush in his trunk and paints a self-portrait. It was one hell of a great painting for an elephant. I feared Heirloom would leave me thinking `great book for a farmer.' Well, my fears were groundless. Heirloom is a great book for any writer of English language prose.

Tim Stark writes with wit, economy, and remarkable style. I'm a big fan of John McPhee's nonfiction. Heirloom makes reference to McPhee's Giving Good Weight, which chronicled the early days of the Union Square Greenmarket where Stark sells his prize tomatoes. Among the farmers Stark talks to is Alvina Frey, the New Jersey bean grower McPhee described as the essence of that market.

But Heirloom reminds me more of McPhee's 1966 classic, Oranges. The back cover of Oranges quotes Roderick Cook's review from Harper's magazine, "This is a surprising book. You may come to the end of it and say to yourself, `But I can't have read a whole book about oranges!' But the chances are you will have done so... It's a delicious book...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tim Stark was an aspiring author doing various makeweight jobs in New York City when he got preoccupied with trying to raise heirloom tomatoes in his Brooklyn apartment. When his landlord put his foot down, Stark relocated his tomatoes and himself to his boyhood home in Lenhartsville, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, which is within the farming region of the Pennsylvania Dutch and about a two-hour drive from NYC (assuming no traffic jams). HEIRLOOM recounts Stark's ten or so years raising organic produce -- principally, heirloom tomatoes, but also chile peppers and sugar snap peas among many others -- on a few acres in Pennsylvania and then selling his produce at the Union Square Greenmarket and to some of the best restaurants in New York City.

Stark confronts an endless succession of obstacles and problems -- ignorance, weather, inadequate and balky equipment, lack of ready cash, insufficient labor, an obstreperous jerk of a neighbor, and insects, deer, and gophers -- each of which he somehow overcomes, or circumvents, or, at a minimum, learns to live with. Thankfully (for me, at least), Stark does not dwell on tedious agricultural details. This is not a gardener's journal; if anything, it probably is of greater interest to the appreciative consumer of organic farming than the practitioner. Interesting subjects discussed at some length are the Amish and Mennonites of the area, the farmer/chef relationships that have developed and undergird some of the most noted restaurants in NYC, and the bleak future for similar agricultural operations catering to urban markets, due to shrinking affordable farmland.

Stark's writing is above average, occasionally quite good, but it is uneven and at times a little disjointed and unnecessarily confusing.
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Format: Hardcover
Heirloom is perhaps best served in the hands of obsessed foodies who crave behind-the-scenes tours of small organic farms, beyond what Food & Wine magazine teases. For gardeners, Heirloom is welcome and amusing company of crazy.

Without pretense or rehearsed narrative, Stark recounts his humble initiations into organic farming (and supplying top chefs in NYC), knowing very little about it, other than what his obsessions demand. His misadventures amuse. It's not perfect writing, yet it is exactly those imperfections that endear this find.

Detours from the narrative will surprise and delight. Unexpected passages include how Mennonite neighbors coach Stark in farming, auction etiquette and small engine repair. (The last paragraph in that chapter is especially moving.) And vignettes give depth and color to an unlikely cast of characters who help Stark plant, pick, sell and save his crops. Best of all, Stark unearths a family history that gives context and perhaps motivation to his madness. While it is all true, it reads like fiction, a story that you'll surely recommend and remember.

A fantastic late-summer read and welcome winter remedy for gardening/foody obsessives that crave the first signs of Spring.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book. It's a quick read, well-written, very personal. If you're interested in knowing more about the reasons a person might become an heirloom tomato farmer when the economic indicators for such a major life change are all negative, read this book. The perils of small-farming are apparent, but somehow, so are the joys. I read the book on a day when I should have been working my own tomatoes, but we've had a rough year and I needed a break. This was it, so I have to say "Thank you Tim!"
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