Jacksonville's Tomato Fest Offers Delicious - And Safe - Tomatoes

Federal officials are still scouring the country, looking for the source of a salmonella outbreak that's reaching across more than a dozen states.

Stores and resturants are pulling tomatoes from menus and shelves, but the City of Jacksonville says its tomatoes are still ripe for the picking - just in time for Tomato Fest.

Wanda Guinn, the owner of Guinn Plant Farm, knows her tomatoes, and rightfully so. "We grew these from seed stage up to plants, so we've seen them the whole time of their existence...I eat them every day," she laughs.

Guinn is like several tomato growers in the Jacksonville area and across East Texas who are gearing up for the city's 24th annual Tomato Fest. Here, tomatoes are picked, painted, and portrayed to help celebrate all things red - and homegrown.

"If you go to Wal-Mart, you don't know where they came from," says Guinn. "If you buy them from me, you know I grew them."

Reports of salmonella have forced fast food resturaunts and grocery stores all over to pull tomatoes from their shelves, but stands like the ones in Jacksonville are becoming more popular, especially now.

The chairman of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Dale Jamerson, says he expects more people at this year's festival.

"We have the right soil, the right growing temperatures, and they're coming off [the vine] right now...at a time when we could use tomatoes."

Cherry and grape tomatoes, tomatoes still attached at the vine, and of course homegrown tomatoes are still safe to eat. Jamerson says that's why Tomato Fest 2008 should go off with a bang, and that you can eat as many tomatoes as you like - as long as they're Jacksonville tomatoes.

Layron Livingston / llivingston@kltv.com