Wilson Farm Tomato Festival

Wilson Farm, Lexington, Mass.

I've probably already said it a million times, but one of my favorite things about this time of year is the abundance of heirloom tomatoes at local farms and markets. I love getting a bunch of different kinds, sprinkling them with a little salt, and sampling them, taking note of the differences and nuances of each variety. I also love incorporating them in fresh summer salads and sauces. Something about knowing the tomatoes have been grown locally makes them taste even better to me.

This weekend there are several tomato festivals going on in the area. We're at the peak of tomato season, so this is no surprise. While I would have liked to visit all of the tomato festivals, I had to hold myself back a little, and I chose to check out the tomato festival at Wilson Farm.

Wilson Farm is about a 20- to 30-minute drive from us, and we've stopped by occasionally ever since I learned of the farm last summer. Even though Jeff doesn't love tomatoes the way I do, he was a good sport and agreed to check out the tomato festival with me. We arrived at the farm and parked across the street in the overflow parking lot, as the regular lot was already filling up.

As soon as we walked into the farm stand, I picked out a basil plant (which I am really hoping I can keep alive) and then we were greeted by Pete, who does promotions, creative, and advertising for Wilson Farm. Realizing that Pete and I have been corresponding on Twitter and through email for a while now, I introduced myself. Pete offered to show us around and walked us through the farm stand, pointing out all the samples of tomato dishes that were set up.

I asked if Chef Todd, who I've also been corresponding with on Twitter but had never met, might be around, and Pete brought us down to the kitchen. On the way, we passed the animal barn, where goats, hens, and even a llama live. The kitchen was bustling, but Chef Todd came right over to say hi and offered to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the farm.

We started by checking out his personal garden, which he started to grow some interesting herbs for his in-the-field dinners. The garden was filled with lemongrass, lavender, a strong variety of cilantro, nasturtiums (which he used to make nasturtium butter), and more.

Next we got to check out where the produce is stored. There's even a special refrigerator set at the perfect temperature for storing tomatoes (although they tend to fly off the shelves and don't need to be stored for long).

We also saw the bakery, which was one of my favorite parts of the tour. They have a walk-in oven! I've never seen such a thing before. Basically, baking sheets are loaded on a speed rack, and then the rack is wheeled into the oven, where it clips in, and is constantly gently rotated.

Some of the bakers were decorating cakes when we walked through, and we got to see some really creative cakes that had been decorated that morning and were awaiting pickup.

I couldn't help snapping a picture of these beautiful tomato-topped pizzas on our way through.

After that Chef Todd had to get back to the kitchen, but Pete continued showing us around. We walked out to the greenhouses, which will soon be full of poinsettias in preparation for the holidays. Right now there's tons of basil out there, and the smell of basil just permeated the air.

From there we could also look out on the fields and see all the crops. Did you know that Wilson Farm sells to grocery stores like Stop & Shop and Russo's? I had no idea. The produce isn't labeled as being from Wilson Farm, but you'll definitely find their stuff there.

Pete also explained that they actually grow flowers in the field to encourage the bees to come so vegetable plants like squash blossoms are more likely to get pollinated.

That concluded the tour, and we thanked Pete for showing us around and headed back out to the farm stand to sample the tomato goodies.

I tried a few varieties of tomatoes (Yellow Brandywine, Jetsetters) and paired them with fresh mozzarella  and maple basil vinaigrette.

Then I moseyed over to the prepared foods and sampled a tomato casserole (so good I brought the recipe home), some guacamole, and tomato gazpacho.

As we wandered around buying groceries, we also sampled melon and peaches.

I, of course, had to pick up some tomatoes to bring home. I think these Costoluto Genovese tomatoes are gorgeous.

Tomatoes at Wilson Farm, Lexington, Mass.

I also got a Yellow Brandywine and a bunch of cherry tomatoes.

These days, I always have flowers on the brain because that's the point we're at with our wedding planning, and I ended up snapping a bunch of pictures of flowers I might want to include in the wedding bouquets and decor.

We had quite a full morning and left with a lot of great produce and other ingredients for meals this week. I even found some fresh basil and summer squash linguine.

A huge thank you to Pete and Todd for taking the time to show us around.

If you love tomatoes and have a little free time, the Wilson Farm Tomato Festival will be running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow. Wilson Farm is located at 10 Pleasant Street in Lexington, Mass.

Also, while we're on the subject of farms and local food, the Third Annual Urban-Ag Fair will be held in Harvard Square on September 18, 2011. There will be samples of local fare, cooking demonstrations, music, a beer garden and more. Check it out if you're around!

What local farms have you been visiting, or what local foods have you been enjoying?