Snuggled amidst the golden poppies in his front yard in Santa Clara, Kevin Garvey’s first tomato of the year is already blushing. In the backyard, large pots of heirloom tomato plants supported by wire cages, varieties with romantic names such as Black Prince and Brandywine Yellow, are lined up along a side fence, and soon will be planted in Garvey’s garden.
Flats of tomato seedlings—sprouted in little peat pots from seeds Garvey harvested from last year’s tomato crop—are ready to be given away free. Last year he gave away 1,000 heirloom tomato seedlings to Santa Clarans with a craving for home-grown tomatoes.
To sweeten the experience even more, Garvey, who is the broker-owner of the Realty World franchise at 805 Kiely Blvd. at Homestead Road, is sponsoring his 7th Annual Heirloom Tomato Contest and offering cash prizes: $100 for Best Plants, $100 for Best Tomatoes, and $25 for Kids & Teen Winners.
You might say that Garvey has a thing for tomatoes. He still savors the memory—and the delicious taste—of the tomatoes grown on his grandmother’s farm in Youngstown, Ohio, when he was a kid from the Chicago area, visiting for summer vacations. He savors the memory of working with his grandmother in the two-acre vegetable garden that was part of the 160-acre family farm where his mother grew up as one of 16 children and where, as was typical back then, cows and chickens were raised and corn was grown.
“The only problem with raising your own heirloom tomatoes is that after tasting them, you never want to buy store-bought tomatoes again,” says Garvey. “Vine-ripened tomatoes are juicy and flavorful compared to the cardboard-like store tomatoes that are picked green then gassed to ripen them.” Heirloom tomatoes are varieties sold commercially that are more than 50 years old or that have been passed down through a family for several generations.
Garvey moved to Santa Clara from the Midwest in 1978. He put down his roots, raised children, and now is raising tomatoes—just as his late grandmother once did.
“Growing tomatoes is therapeutic,” he says. “My vegetable garden is a great stress reliever. It’s something I enjoy doing. I know other people also get a lot of enjoyment out of a garden, and people like to share.”
To request a free tomato plant, call Garvey’s office 408-244-4111 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Register to enter the 2014 Heirloom Tomato Contest. Then late August or early September, Garvey, who is the sole judge, will notify you that the time is ripe for him to judge your heirloom plant and tomatoes. One past winning plant was 10 feet tall and another had 120 tomatoes on just the one plant.
“I want to help create a positive environment in a small way,” says Garvey, a winner himself as the number one real estate agent in 2014 in all of Realty World in northern California. Garvey also gives out free flags on the 4th of July from his realty office parking lot and free hotdogs and bottled water during the September Santa Clara Art and Wine Festival.
Garvey’s grandmother would be proud.