In Iowa: Bigger tomatoes through political science

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Tomato plants, you may be surprised to hear, are extremely sensitive to atmospheric mendacity.

When mendacity levels are high, the startled, outraged plants ramp up fruit production. It’s like they sense our need for massive, juicy, delicious tomatoes in troubled times.

Needless to say, during election years, tomatoes can become alarmingly large. This year, with August mendacity levels at 1 million parts per million, you can imagine the effects.

I arose on a recent morning to find a Cherokee Purple in my own garden had grown large enough to blot out the sun. A Caspian Pink rolled from my backyard and crushed a subcompact car. A Mortgage Lifter had to be airlifted out by a Chinook helicopter.

Skeptical? You can look it up in the Journal of Political Botany: “The new BLT. Big Lies and Tomatoes — The Tasty Upside to Our Descent into Political Chaos.” — North Marion Tomato Institute, 2016.

In truth, we have been harvesting some remarkably large tomatoes from our small backyard tomato ranch. Periodic rains and plenty of warm, muggy weather did their magic. Other than pulling a few weeds and staking some unruly growth, I can take little credit.

These may be some of the biggest tomatoes I’ve seen since the summer of 1976, another presidential election year. Or maybe it was amid the midterms of 1978. It was a long time ago.

My parents had a sizable garden on the south half of our yard. Each spring, we’d rake all of last year’s plant trash into a pile, my dad would light it on fire and we’d roast hot dogs.

Days later, a guy named Shorty Evans would pull up in an El Camino with a trailer hauling a tiller. Shorty made short work turning our patch into a garden ready to plant.

It was an annual ritual. And we always planted tomatoes. But in that ’70s-something summer, something happened. Was it the weather, or the variety, or the mendacity? I can’t be sure.

These tomatoes, I kid you not, were as big as my head. Massive red behemoths that looked more like pumpkins than tomatoes. And there were loads of them. More than we could eat.

So my parents decided I should set up a table by the roadside in front of our house and try to sell tomatoes to passing motorists. Surely they’d be big sellers.

They hauled out a rickety, wooden table, painted bright yellow, taped a sign on the front and sat me in a chair behind a pile of huge tomatoes.

There is photographic evidence, somewhere. I’m sitting there in a blue shirt and plaid pants (hey, it was the ’70s) with bare feet. I’m sporting the longish “Buster Brown” haircut my mother insisted I keep, no matter how many times I was mistaken for a girl.

I’m squinting into a hot afternoon sun. I’m starting my very first job. Director of Agricultural Marketing.

But our business plan was deeply flawed. We lived on a rural gravel road with very little traffic. Vehicles that did come by were usually traveling 45 mph or more, throwing up a cloud of late summer dust akin to a 1930s Oklahoma duster. It was a setback for product visibility.

I learned that work can be dirty, hot and monotonous. Also, at times, fruitless. Sales? Don’t ask.

Wait. Come to think of it, I actually sold thousands of big, beautiful tomatoes. And Mexico paid for them. What? I’m just helping the tomatoes grow yuge.

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