I have come to realize that having too many tomatoes, or zucchini, or cucumbers, or eggplant, or who-knows-what is actually pretty handy for building community. See, where I would normally not venture out of my comfort zone to talk with that bald man across the street who insists on burning all of his trash -- despite our local laws and the terrible environmental impact -- now I am armed with an armload of fresh tomatoes which are a great excuse to visit and usually a sign of goodwill. (Tomatoes as a sign of ill? Just when one is performing on stage and is summarily pelted with them, I think.)

And had I not asked the sweet widow next door if she needed any tomatoes, I would never have known that she used to be a missionary worker who has been all over the world and that she still misses her husband, Otis, terribly even though he's been dead a long time now. Oh, and that she still has all of her old canning equipment and would be happy to show me how to “put up” my tomatoes for the winter. Until now, I've been too chicken to try, as many of the canning books I had come across really belabored that whole botulism business... 

Then there is the married couple who hang around my downtown post office selling the local newspaper. I've unloaded scads of my cherry tomatoes and Marglobes on them. Despite the fact that they don't always have a kitchen in which to cook, they always find a way to make BLTs, and they've offered to make me one anytime I'd like.

The older man who lives directly behind me doesn't say much -- unless my walnut trees are raining their hard little nuts down on his Chevy Tahoe again -- but bring over a bag of just-picked tomatoes and you can't shut him up about making the perfect salsa, or stuffed tomatoes, or tomato sauce from scratch...

I wonder when -- and why -- we all became so isolated from one another anyway. And what is it about tomatoes that brings people out of their shells? Looks like I'll be planting even more of them next year.

Story by Susan Brackney. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2007. The story was added to MNN.com in April 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007

Too many tomatoes
Garden produce can produce neighborliness and friendship.