He was aiming for a compromise—a tomato that grew well and tasted good. What he got shocked him. Like its commercial parent, Klee’s new tomato boasted excellent shelf life, disease resistance, and productivity. But by some miracle, it tasted so good that its flavor scores were statistically identical to its heirloom parent. Klee dubbed his miracle fruit the Garden Gem.
The rest of the story, you would think, would go something like this: Supermarkets clamor for exclusive rights to sell the Garden Gem. Growers from Florida to California to New Jersey engage in a historic bidding war for Garden Gem seeds. And consumers at last experience the fantasy of walking into a supermarket and buying tomatoes that cause tears of joy to slide down their cheeks as the juice slides down their chins.
Here’s what actually happened: Klee offered the tomato to commercial seed companies. They said no thanks. There has been, according to Klee, “zero interest” in the Garden Gem.
The tragic tale of the Garden Gem tomato, which can't find a spot at U.S. grocery stores because, well, we've put up with lousy, bland tomatoes for so long that the industrial food chain feels little pressure to innovate. We get the tomatoes we deserve.
We demanded better coffee, we got it. We demanded better apples, and we no longer have to put up with mealy Red Delicious. So I'm hopeful we'll see the light on our tomatoes.
Having just returned from a month of travel in Italy, I'm spoiled on amazing tomatoes. Italy did not invent the tomato, it came over from the New World, but Italy's soil, rich in volcanic minerals, is the perfect home to grow the most flavorful tomatoes I've ever eaten. The same goes for Italy's potatoes.
So much produce at U.S. grocery stores is so old, has spent so long in transit, that all flavor is gone. It's the danger of refrigeration and preservation technology that is too good. You can find an edible tomato in the Bay Area, it will just cost you $5.
Of course, there may be one place you can find the Garden Gem tomato in the future.
There’s even hope for the Garden Gem. Klee did receive one extremely enthusiastic response from a seed company—in Italy. “They loved it,” he says. “They asked for 10,000 more seeds.” One day soon, it may well be possible to walk into your local supermarket and buy a basket of Garden Gems. You’ll just have to move to Rome.
Of course. This is a sign I need to move to Italy. Garden Gem tomato inventor, call me.