Jacksonville's Big Event Of The Year: Starring The Tomato

It was all about the tomato today in East Texas. Hundreds celebrated the fruit that a local town is famous for.

KLTV 7's Courtney Lane takes us to Jacksonville's Tomato Fest, where East Texans enjoyed fresh tomatoes, safe from salmonella.

It's Jacksonville's big event of the year... starring the tomato.

"It's pretty much what we're known for," said Rechelle Dwyer of Jacksonville.

Each year hundreds flock to the small town, boosting business for Jacksonville. And it features some unusual contests, including tomato eating, peeling, and mashing.

This year, there seems to be a deeper appreciation for home-grown produce, in light of the nationwide salmonella outbreak in tomatoes.

"The tomatoes are coming from an unknown source," said David Claiborne, with The Tomato Shed in Jacksonville. "They could not guarantee they weren't going to be contaminated in some manner, so folks have been looking for the local product. Something they can feel confident in consuming during this period."

And it's helping local producers' profit. They said they've had a tremendous increase, selling every bit of their harvest, which is fresh and safe.

"We have more traditional type cultural practices in growing our tomatoes," said Claiborne.  "We rely on good ole' East Texas soil and good ole' East Texas rains to produce our tomatoes. We don't use any unknown or questionable sources of fertilizer."

"We have a lot of people come in from Houston, Dallas, especially with the tomato scare right now," said Dwyer.

Celebrating a red, ripe taste of home.

The Tomato Fest was a one day event Saturday. This is Jacksonville's 24th year to host the festival. Texas is one of 27 states labeled safe by the FDA for tomato growth.

Courtney Lane, Reporting  clane@kltv.com