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Hanover Tomato Festival returns in full swing

A tomato sits in the field
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
A tomato sits in the field on Wednesday, July 12, 2023 at Hanover Vegetable Farm in Hanover County, Virginia.

The two-day event returns to its agricultural roots at Pole Green Park after three years away.

The 40-year history of the Hanover Tomato Festival continues in 2023, as the event returns to its pre-pandemic home in Mechanicsville’s Pole Green Park.

The festival runs from 5 to 9 p.m on Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday.

What began as a fundraiser for a local volunteer fire department in the 1970s has become a long-standing tradition for county residents, out-of-state guests and even sitting presidents.

In 2020, the two-day festival was canceled for the first time in its history. The event returned the following year via a series of smaller events throughout the month of July.

Starting Friday, the festival returns in full force with nearly 100 handcraft and artisan vendors, agricultural displays, live music, food — and Hanover-grown tomatoes, of course.

Kevin Pond, manager of the Hanover Vegetable Farm, is providing over 12,500 pounds of tomatoes to the county for this year's event. The multi-acre farm located just outside the town of Ashland has over 100 years of history.

“I think anytime that you can draw people outside of the county in, is always a positive,” Pond told VPM News. “Whether it’s the tomato festival or Ashland’s Train Day or the events we have on the farm, it's positive for all of us.”

Although the produce remains the festival’s main attraction, Pond said what’s more engaging is people's interest in the local agricultural community..

“All those things help continue to promote what we do, so that we can continue as a farm,” Pond said. “It’s important to the farming community.”

The most recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2017 found that around 30% of the county's total area was made of farmland, with over 500 farms.

The value of products sold during that same period were nearly $50 million; the county ranked 20th statewide in earnings.

People like Anne Geyer, founder and operator of the Agriberry Farm, told VPM News that Hanover is a prime location for people interested in a career in agriculture. Geyer’s farm in the Henry District is also one of this year’s festival vendors.

“This is a hometown-oriented festival that highlights tomatoes, but really it’s for everyone to enjoy and realize Hanover’s a great place for vegetables, grain and even berries,” Geyer said. “The tomato festival was one of my first ever events, and I was amazed at how much interest we got.”

Agritourism continues to be a key component for the county, with visitors spending over $258 million and generating over $5 million in additional tax revenue, according to the Hanover County Department of Economic Development.

As far as why tomatoes remain the main attraction? Neither Geyer nor Pond know the answer. Pond said it's just something that’s stuck around in the county’s roots.

“I wish I knew the answer,” Pond said. “We've told some wives’ tales for the kids that dinosaurs used to roam here and their bones are in the soil. That’s what makes the ground more acidic to give our tomatoes flavor. So for now, I'm sticking with the dinosaurs.”

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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