More Tomatoes!

13th-Annual Tomato Contest Winners

By JULIE MULLEN For Sun-Times Media
[August 21, 2010, East Dundee, IL] While growing tomatoes is for sustenance, it's also a social endeavor, according to 82 year-old East Dundee resident Norm Thomas.

"I do it more for fun and for friends," Thomas said. "I end up with tons of them for family and neighbors. I grow them mainly to share them with people."

August marks the height of tomato ripening for the area, which is why those with a knack for spawning a huge varietal came to the Dundee Township Visitor's Center on Saturday.

Area residents flocked to the 13th annual Largest Tomato Contest to hopefully share in the $1,000 in prizes being doled out.

Thomas took first place for his two-pound, eight- and one-eighth-ounce giant split-apart fruit that was, perhaps, better for weighing than for eating.

"I didn't want to eat that one; it was bad news," Thomas said with a laugh.

Second place, with a tomato weighing just one-eighth of an ounce less than Thomas', went to Elgin resident Adam Tobler. Third place was captured by his father, Steve Tobler, who grew a two-pound, four-ounce tomato, followed by Gail Russell in fourth place, with one weighing two-pounds, three-and-five-eighths ounces.

Twenty-four entries in all were brought in to the contest on Saturday. Tomatoes were judged by weight, and could be red, green, or any variation of ripeness in between.

Prizes, donated by area merchants, such as Old Country Buffet, were given out for first through fourth places, and totaled $400, $300, $200, and $100, respectively.

Other business donors included Dundee Landscape Nursery, Liberty Lanes, Diamond Jim's, Dairy Queen, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster.

Dundee Township Visitor's Center board member Bill Zelsdorf runs both a tomato- and pumpkin-growing contest each year primarily for fun, but also to highlight the Visitor's Center at 319 N. River St., as well as the weekly farmers market held on its grounds.

"It has to be fun. Otherwise, what's the point?" said Zelsdorf, who is also the new coordinator of the farmers market. "The vendors really enjoy it, and it brings attention to our market and center."
The Old Dundee Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday through October and features various vendors selling locally grown produce, plants and flowers, collectibles, antiques, and jewelry.

Thomas, who has won second and third places in the contest in past years, said he doesn't really have a secret to growing larger tomatoes in his backyard -- only the second of two East Dundee homes he's lived in.

Maybe Thomas' success stems from his motivation to share his crops -- which also include cucumbers and peppers.

"I think it's just good soil, and I use Burpee seeds, which I order each year," he said. "I do raise my own plants from seed, which seems to help. It's just fun to share them with other people."