SHERMAN – Ralph Gorman, of Sherman, has been the owner of the town’s White Silo Farm and Winery, set against the bucolic backdrop of hilly western Connecticut and located at 32 Rt. 37 East, for over 30 years. The winery at White Silo is a successful local business, an outgrowth of a farm which produces a variety of fruits and vegetables—from blackberries and blueberries to asparagus and quinces—and is known for offering fruit and grape wines, as well as the tastings to be had and regular festivals held there.
Gorman is also one of many to be stupefied by the sheer size of one crop growing this year at White Silo’s farm: tomatoes.
“They are the most unusual tomatoes,” said Gorman in an interview. “I’ve been growing tomatoes for myself, for my family, for years… I have never seen tomatoes look like this, ever. They’re so unusual… This year the tomatoes are absolutely incredible.”
Gorman remarked that his friend, Eric Olsen, a resident of New Milford, has become “obsessed” with growing tomatoes. “It’s become his passion,” said Gorman.
And it is this year’s harvest of tomatoes, many of them grown by Olsen and huge compared to the size of most conventional tomatoes, that have recently become a source of curiosity surrounding the farm.
The largest of these mammoth plants, of an heirloom beefsteak variety known as Italian tree tomato, stands between eight and 10 feet tall.
There are other large, though not quite so enormous, tomatoes at the White Silo farm. Yet these, of the Belgian giant variety, are impressive in their own right. They can, according to Gorman, grow up to 18 feet, given the right conditions.
They’re also quite heavy. “We have steel posts holding them up,” remarked Gorman, illustrating the farm’s Belgian giants’ sheer weight. “Wood would never do it.”
Gorman said that the decision to transition to steel poles was part of a learning process: “Last year what happened is that all the poles started to sag under the weight of the tomatoes, and it became sort of a problem trying to hold them all up.”
Steel poles provide structural support for these large varieties of tomato. Tomatoes, like the Italian tree and Belgian giant, often grow so fast they cannot support their own mass. In order to truly reach their potential, they must be secured to a strut or series of struts to give them proper support.
Also growing at White Silo Farm are the unusually-shaped fiaschetto di Manduria and oddly-colored kumato varieties of tomato. Their ripe fruits are pepper-shaped and blackish green-hued, respectively. “They look like pears,” Gorman contended of the kumatos.
But unusual shapes, sizes, and weights are just one part of the picture. Gorman is also surprised by the sheer productivity of his and Olsen’s tomato plants. “Last year, I would say, on the Italian tree,
tomato, on one plant, there were maybe 30 or 40 pounds of tomatoes,” he mentioned. “I mean, this produces a huge amount of tomatoes. And we have about 25 plants, or a little bit more, this year. So, we’re going to be in the hundreds of pounds very shortly… We’re producing quite a few pounds every day now.”
He is also surprised by the clustered plants’ “weediness” and sheer density. “It looks like a jungle of tomatoes. That’s what it looks like,” said Gorman. “And last year we planted them two feet apart… That’s usually the standard. It was so dense you couldn’t walk through them. This year we planted them four feet apart and the same thing is happening. It’s so dense you have to… squeeze in sideways to get in to the middle of the tomato patch.”
All told, the plants have left Gorman stunned. “When I say it’s unusual—I have been a gardener for a very long time—this is very unusual,” said Gorman.
Gorman bought the White Silo property, then a dairy farm, over 30 years ago. He then converted it into a fruit farm, and later opened a winery on the spot. He co-directs White Silo Farm and Winery with his son, Eric.
White Silo hosts regular public festivals, around once a month, each featuring foodstuffs and meals made with a particular fruit or vegetable growing at the farm. The festivals are free to attend, though food comes at a price. “The festivals are based on what we grow, whatever we’re growing [at the moment],” said Gorman.
A tomato festival—appropriate, given the recent success of Gorman and Olsen’s garden—will be announced and held on September 1st. “We do a quite a lot.” said Gorman in an interview. “We do a number of events. I’d say 20 a year.”
To learn more about White Silo Farm and Winery, including events planned for the location, visit their website at whitesilowinery.com. Contact them by phone at 860-355-0271.
*Recently announced, the 1st Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival will take place September 1 from 12pm – 5pm. The festival will feature six small plates of food prepared with their farm grown heirloom tomatoes. The menu includes: Margarita flatbread; Caprese salad; Stuffed tomatoes with quinoa; Gazpacho with grilled shrimp; Ammoglio bruschetta; and Sausage and tomato pasta. Admission is free. Wine and food purchased for a fee. Live music 1-4:30 PM by Potter’s Field.
By Ryan V. Stewart