Step Right Up!
A “lollapalooza” is like a “humdinger” or a “doozy,” but different! And a “tomatopalooza” starts out as mild as a vegan humdinger, but soon rips and snorts like the bee’s knees. I jest, but not much. Here’s the lowdown:
Sometime back in the 1890’s the word, “lollapalooza,” was first recorded in print in the United States, and it meant something along the lines of “the best of its kind,” or “unusually impressive.” This “lollapalooza” rose up, dripping with excitement, out of our collective, cacophonic, verbal swamp, like a swaggering, bragging, carny barker of a monster. Nobody had patent rights to the “lollapalooza” and we have no such thing as an official “American Academy” that certifies the English vocabulary that’s fit to pronounce, the way that the French keep their language pure by following the rigorous dictates of their Academie Francaise. But purity isn’t much of a core American value, so nobody noticed, and everybody just used the word the way they felt like. Lollapalooza was not a word that Queen Victoria would have used, but its splendid vagueness served the likes of P.T. Barnum and, later, The Three Stooges. The noted American “inventor,” Rube Goldberg, named a cartoon character “Lala Palooza,” and at one point there was an exceptionally large lollipop marketed as a “Lollipalooza.” The Egyptians invented mathematics, the Greeks invented philosophy, and the Mexicans invented tomatoes, chilies, corn, beans, squash, cotton and chocolate, but we Americans invented a successful approach to mass marketing through hyperbole that blurs the fine lines between freedom, fantasy and fraud. Whatever else it is, the Lollapalooza is an American.
In roughly contemporary times the word lollapalooza became associated with a touring rock music festival of the same name. I have not attended any of the Lollapalooza festivals, but it was maybe during one of those shows that I was not attending because I was always picking and hustling tomatoes that I decided to do our first “Tomatopalooza.” Like the musical Lollapalooza, the tomatopalooza is a forum for diverse performers, so instead of a lineup of acts that go from metal to punk to pop, you’ve got tomatoes of every genre performing, from tomatillos, little sweet 100s and sungolds, up through the larger dry farmed Piennolo, and Early Girls, all the way through to the big, fat heirlooms. Next to hit the stage will be the headlining act, the “San Marzanos”. And there are always the side shows like the jalapeños, basils and herbs that go so well with tomatoes. We found out that our customers like flowers as much as they like tomatoes. We did our first “Tomatopalooza” of the year this past weekend in front of Alladin Nursery in Watsonville and it was a success. Starr and I want to thank Gustavo and his family and staff for hosting our event. We met a lot of neighbors, saw a lot of friends, and sent a lot of tomatoes and flowers out into the world. If you are ever passing by Alladin you will see our flower cart out front, it isn’t easy to miss the brightly “ice-dyed” roof and the cart that is filled this time of year with Dahlias and Zinnias. And definitely take a look inside Alladin, it is filled with many wonderful plants and gifts that you can enjoy.
As Starr was helping people gather up their purchases and I was bringing more boxes from the van to the booth I found myself thinking about my grandfather, my mom’s father. He had a little country store up in Applegate, in the gold country, and I remember the state building I-80 right through “town”, dividing what was already a tiny village into two, separate scraps of community. My Grandpa’s store was in the same building as the post office, and library, and it was down the only block from the bar and the “‘no-tell Motel,” so it served as a casual community center. Grandpa sold worms for bait, Wonderbread, beer, pipe fittings, toys, toilet seats, guns, milk, eggs, ammo- anything and everything you’d need to satisfy the wants of a rural life. And in his parking lot he hosted the Applegate Community Center’s Community Garden Market. Just past the bar was an old, red, one-roomed schoolhouse that mom had attended when she was a girl, and that was the OFFICIAL community center. They had a large garden that people volunteered in and grew veggies for the market wagon. It was a great big buckboard style wagon with rubber tread wheels that they’d pile high with corn and okra and zucchini and…..tomatoes! My first job in the produce industry was sitting up on the wagon, bagging people’s green beans and sweet corn and melons and….tomatoes! The smell of tomatoes in the summer is, for me, the smell of summer.
Tomato season almost always starts around the same time of year, because we plant on or around April 15th, which is supposedly our average “frost free” date. But how long the season lasts is anybody’s guess; an extreme heatwave, like we had four years ago, or an unusually heavy and early rain, like we had six years ago, can bring things to an early end. In our dreams we have a steady flow of ripe fruit all the way until November, at which point we begin wishing it would please rain so that we know we will have the water for next year. Keep your eyes on the newsletter for a tomatopalooza near you. It’s “so far, so good” with this season, and it looks like we have a nice crop rolling in. Tomatopalooza 2022 is coming. I promise you it’ll be a rip-snorting humdinger.
Thanks again for all your support!
Andy and the Crew at Mariquita Farm
© 2022 Essay and photos by Andy Griffin