(06/18/19) PAULINA, La. — The St. James Parish tomato field day has become an annual event that provides excitement and bragging rights from growers and the community.
Each year, the event draws a crowd of active gardeners and those who are searching for information on how to get started.
Since 2009, the LSU AgCenter has hosted the St. James Parish tomato field day at Raymond “T-Black” Millet’s farm in Paulina.
Held in early June, the field day typically draws a crowd of 150 to 200 people. Over the years it has become a community event, attracting tomato enthusiasts from neighboring parishes as well, said AgCenter agent Andre Brock.
The field day includes a field tour, presentations, awards and a free jambalaya dinner.
“Helping people grow better tomatoes is the goal,” Brock said. “But the field day also offers the value of fellowship and a little friendly competition.”
During the field tour, AgCenter agents and specialists discuss different tomato varieties, highlighting their disease resistance and other characteristics. Insect and disease issues and controls as well as weeds and herbicides are also discussed.
This year, AgCenter plant doctor Raj Singh discussed the primary diseases plaguing growers now, including Southern blight.
St. James Parish and the surrounding area has many small growers who sell tomatoes locally to grocery stores and at roadside stands. Many of them still prefer the older varieties, so the field day showcases some newer varieties that have better disease resistance and higher production capabilities.
Even though tomatoes are the main attraction, for the past couple of years, several bell pepper and cucumber varieties have been added to the field day.
To increase friendly competition, a biggest tomato contest has been sponsored by the St. James Parish Farm Bureau, which brings in individual tomatoes weighing more than a pound.
The winner of this year’s contest was Elton Chenier, of South Vacherie, with his 1.68-pound ZigZag variety that he says is grown by his “secret process.”
“I have about 60 tomato plants and I give it to the older people in my neighborhood,” Chenier said. “I grow some Bull’s Heart varieties that the soldiers brought back from World War II, and they are the best tomatoes you’re ever going to eat.”
Other features added to the field day over the years include the winners of the 4-H youth and adult spring garden contest and a tomato taste test where participants can vote on the best-tasting variety.
This year’s garden winners placed in three divisions.
In the youth division, the winners are:
Adult winners are:
LSU AgCenter agent Andre Brock discuss different tomato, cucumber and pepper varieties at the St. James Parish tomato field day in Paulina on June 13. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter plant doctor Raj Singh discusses primary diseases like Southern blight that are plaguing tomato growers during the St. James Parish tomato field day in Paulina on June 13. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
This year’s biggest tomato at the St. James Parish tomato field day held on June 13 was grown by Elton Chenier and weighed 1.68 lbs.The second-place tomato, grown by Brogan Louque, weighed 1.62 lbs. T-Black Millet and Cole Poche tied for third place with tomatoes weighing 1.55 lbs. From left are T-Black Millet; Gene Martin, representing East St. James Farm Bureau; Elton Chenier; Brogan Louque; and Cole Poche. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter