Your Village: Is there a veggie-based conspiracy at the Iowa City Farmers Market?

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Ineichen’s Tomatoes at the Iowa City Farmers Market, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

What’s up with that one stand at the Iowa City Farmer’s market? It has tomatoes all summer, for one. And all the veggies look too perfect. Is it legit? Or is it Hyvee? — Anonymous via the Your Village feature on LV’s homepage.

That one stand is Ineichen’s Tomatoes. “It’s legit,” Iowa City Farmers Market Coordinator Tammy Neumann told Little Village.

In fact, not only is Ineichen’s not sneaking in photogenic veggies from Hy-Vee, Hy-Vee actually buys tomatoes from Ineichen’s and makes sure everybody knows. Stores have shelf tags and posters advertising the tomatoes by name.

“They even have a life-size cardboard cut-out of Carrie in some Hy-Vees,” Neumann said.

Carrie Wall, the friendly person behind the Ineichen’s table at the farmers market, grew up selling tomatoes, because Ineichen’s is her family’s business.

Ineichen’s Tomatoes was founded in 1986 by Wall’s father, Bob Ineichen of Rock Island, Illinois. It quickly developed a reputation for its greenhouse-grown produce, which is available from April through October.

“We grow 16,000 tomato plants indoors,” Wall explained between customers at the farmers market on Wednesday evening. “In the end of November and beginning of December, we start the seeds. Then we plant the seedlings in the greenhouse in January.”

Ineichen’s has greenhouses in Blue Grass, Iowa and Milan, Illinois, and it’s been selling its vegetables at the Iowa City Farmers Market for approximately 30 years.

Wall started working at the Iowa City market to help her father with the stand.

“I’ve been coming by myself since I was 16, which was 25 years ago,” Wall said. She’s worked her way up from teenage tomato-seller to co-owner of Ineichen’s.

“Two years ago, my parents retired and two of my siblings and I bought it from them, and we are running the farm now,” Wall said.

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Neumann said it’s no surprise someone might harbor suspicions of veggie-based conspiracy at the farmers market. It’s happened before.

“We actually have a form people can fill out if they suspect something is wrong,” she said. “After they turn it in, we’ll conduct an investigation. But we don’t need to do one this time. With Carrie, I already know the answer.”

Carrie Wall of Ineichen’s Tomatoes serving customers at the Iowa City Farmers Market, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

Pedantic postscript on tomatoes: Whenever a story that lumps in tomatoes with vegetables is published, some people can’t resist pointing out the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. That’s a fact, but one that’s been irrelevant since 1893 when it comes to selling tomatoes in the United States. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Nix v. Hadden that tomatoes are legally classified as vegetables for regulatory and commercial purposes. And since botanists can’t send you to jail, but judges can, tomatoes are sold as vegetables.

Insisting on strict botanical definitions for familiar kitchen favorites turns dizzying very quickly. For example, a strawberry isn’t a berry (it’s an “accessory fruit”), but an avocado is. If you enjoy that sort of thing, have at it, but there’s no need to tell Little Village the tomato is a fruit. We know.

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