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Stories from the valley

The Start of Your Salsa and Much More

Contributed by Steve Beckley

Processing tomatoes are an important crop for California and the Sacramento Valley.  This year processing tomatoes will be grown on 235,000 acres in the state with an expected crop of 12.1 million tons, which will yield nearly 50 tons per acre.  Ketchup, salsa, tomato sauce, tomato paste, pizza sauce and many other products will be made from this crop.  Yolo, Sutter, and Colusa Counties are major growing areas in the Valley.

As you drive the freeways and back roads of the valley, trucks pulling bulk bins of tomatoes headed for the processing plants are a common sight this time of year.  Many individuals that see the trailers full of ripe tomatoes ask, “Don’t they get smashed?”   The tomatoes used for processing are breed to withstand the rigors of mechanical harvest and transportation, but still have great flavor.  Processors time harvest and delivery to ensure that the tomatoes are in excellent shape when they reach the cannery. A great resource on processing tomato facts can be found on the California Tomato Growers Association webpage at Also on the page, the age-old question “Are tomatoes fruits or vegetables?” is answered.

I checked on the progress of this year’s crop by visiting the Morning Star Company in Williams and was given a tour that allowed me to get a close up view of what happens after the tomatoes leave the field.  This plant manufactures tomato paste that is shipped to other companies that make the final products.  I do have an additional interest in this year’s tomato crop as the farming operation that leases my ground in Grimes has planted tomatoes for Morning Star on it. Pizza, salsa (and an occasionally Bloody Mary) are an important part of my diet.  The only dishes I put ketchup on are scrambled eggs and French fries.  Though I have friends that think ketchup should be put on everything and who am I to argue?  The Williams plant is one of several tomato processing plants located north of Hwy 80.  There are other plants throughout the Central and San Joaquin Valleys.  These plants provide many jobs for the residents of our area and run 24-hours a day from early July to mid-October.