Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘tomato’

HOMEGROWN Life: My Topsy Turvy Tantrum

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011






First off, let me start this post with an apology to all of you reading right now.  What I write may offend you and be critical of something you very much enjoy.  For that, I’m sorry.  Though I don’t intend to alienate you from reading my posts, I need to get something off my chest or I’m going to explode…


I CANNOT STAND THOSE ABSURD TOPSY TURVY TOMATO CONTRAPTIONS!  And since it’s that time of year again where friends, relatives, neighbors, and complete strangers are dusting them off and letting those Topsy Turvy freak flags fly, I’m going absolutely berserk.

True, they’re terrific for getting people interested in gardening: They’re compact if you’re short on space; they hold water for days if you’re busy and away; and they’re conveniently sold at places like Walgreens so you can pick up your prescription drugs, the latest Us Weekly, a pack of smokes, and your Topsy Turvy all in one fell swoop.  It also eliminates all the struggle, hassle, and physical pain associated with conventional gardening.     Hooray!

So what’s my problem?

How about the fact that it’s a manufactured, mass-produced, plastic device shipped from overseas?  Probably plenty of people are attracted to the Topsy Turvy due to romantic delusions of being more sustainable and growing one’s own vegetables.  However, if you’re growing in something that traveled half the globe to get here, and it won’t ever biodegrade, is it still sustainable?

Why not just fashion your own DIY upside-down planter out of repurposed materials?  Upcycling, even if it’s a plastic milk jug, is wholly more sustainable than purchasing something from the As Seen On TV store.  It doesn’t take much effort, or even much skill, to figure out how to put together something similar to the Topsy Turvy.


Then there’s the issue of soil without toil…  The Topsy Turvy promotes itself on being a way for people to enjoy the fruits of gardening without the bothersome nuisance of having to actually garden.  There’s no need for a trowel, getting dirty, pesky bending up and down, or breaking a sweat thanks to this modern marvel.  While I can understand this being a benefit to folks that are disabled or elderly and want to enjoy fresh tomatoes, many of the people I witness hanging Topsy Turvys in their yards are physically capable of gardening and could likely gain from the fresh air and time spent outdoors.     You know who you are.

If you’re a Topsy Turvy enthusiast, great.  I’d rather you eat upside-down tomatoes than no tomatoes at all.  It’s just that our species’ relationship with food and agriculture is so perverse these days.  The Topsy Turvy seems to only further disconnect many of us from the growing process at a time when it’s so pivotal to feel truly connected to and involved with the food we eat.

Yellow Tree Farm’s web site is


Danielle Yellow Tree

“I’m half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008.  Together, we grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri.  I don’t have children.  I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies.”


Why We Farm: When Disaster Strikes

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Neysa working 2

A year and a half ago, my husband Travis and I decided we wanted to be organic farmers. Neither of us had a background in agriculture. In fact, I was probably about as disconnected from physical labor as you can get — I was pursuing my PhD. This weekly series will take you through Travis’ and my journey to own and operate our own organic farm. From a farm internship in a tiny New York town, to management positions at the largest CSA farm in the southern United States, and now our current project of running a one-acre farm in Austin, Texas, our experience has been filled with wild successes, sharp disappointments, and self-discovery. I hope our story can provide others with ideas and resources for their own farming projects–urban or rural, big or small, hobby or professional. I also hope it can shine some light on the new organic movement surging in urban spaces and among America’s young people. To me, our collective attempt to reconnect with food is a testament to the ability of youth to create, even in difficult times.


It is the end of August, the height of harvest season, when everything is in full production.  The days are long, the air is warm, and we can’t keep up with all the work.  There is only one problem.  In Betsey’s corner field sits her tomato plants, looking withered and burnt. The fruit on the vine is still green, except where bulbous, leathery, black lesions deform it.  Our tomatoes are infected with Phytophthora infestans—the same blight that destroyed Ireland’s potato crop in the 1840s.  Phytophthora infestans, or Late Blight, breaks out in the northeast every summer, but the excessive rain the last two months has caused the spores of the disease to spread rapidly and exponentially.  We heard about the outbreak a few weeks ago.  Betsey immediately went out to inspect her field, and came back looking sick.  The next day, Travis and I went out too, and sure enough, we saw black splotches on the fruit and stems.  Who knows how we got it–a passing car, a bird, a neighbor–but there’s nothing we can do.  The culprit, they say, is contaminated seed that can be traced back to sales from Home Depot and Target.

Betsey is doing her best to hold herself together.   Normally, her tomato plants produce thousands of pounds of tomatoes.  Now we are lucky to get 100 pounds a week from over 700 plants.  Every day we try to harvest whatever good fruit there is.  Betsey is being up front with her CSA members, who were expecting tons of tomatoes in their shares this season.  Right now, she can’t promise much.


For me as an intern, it was a little sad, although the heaviness of the situation really didn’t weigh on me like it did Betsey.  I was more interested to see how Betsey handled this situation.  I learned that losses like this are part of the game in farming.  Stuff happens—a bad storm, a disease, a pest infestation, not enough rain, too much rain—and you lose crops.  But what do you do when it happens?  Take the hit?  Try to recoup costs by planting something new?  Focus your attention on another aspect of your farm?

In the end, Betsey tried a few OMNI-approved sprays, but swiftly lost the battle for her tomatoes.  She was upset, but took it in stride.  Every season presents new challenges, and new chances to excel.  As I walked with her one evening past her drooping tomato field, I saw her look at them sadly then mutter to herself, “Such is the way.”  She left it at that.

Neysa is currently farming an acre of organic vegetables in Austin, Texas. For updates on her farm, visit or follow her on twitter @farmerneysa