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Mary Rea | Methow’s competitive spirit reveals itself in the valley’s history of terrific tomatoes

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Newport News Daily Press /Adrin Snider The rarity of heirloom tomatoes are part of the competition in the Methow Valley.

The people of the Methow Valley seem to have a competitive streak.

Take cross-country skiing. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many people moved here because they heard Aspen Ski Corp. was building a ski hill on Sandy Butte. When that didn’t work out, a lot of the downhillers took up cross-country skiing.

At first everyone was happy to slide along on the few trails maintained by the skiers themselves. Then someone had the idea to organize a club to keep up the trails.

Next winter somebody suggested a community race. It was family oriented with different divisions for different age groups and skill levels. Everyone was invited to participate and there was a potluck afterwards.

Soon a few people decided they wanted to go faster, so they took up skate skiing ... which requires a different kind of track. Now there needed to be paid groomers to maintain two sets of tracks... one for the tortoises and one for the hares.

The hares decided to hold their own races, and things got really serious. Soon local kids, except for the most talented, were no longer racing. Older folks, unless they were hard-core, stayed away too. There were no more potlucks.

Soon word got out among racers on the west side of the state. They showed up, won everything, and even less Valley folks participated. Now it seems like we’re just the place where races for Olympic hopefuls are held.

I bring this up because of tomatoes.

The annual Valley competition is underway to produce the best and biggest tomatoes. People go to Spokane in early May to buy tomatoes with small fruits already on the vine, just to be able to brag, “Oh, we’ve had tomatoes since the third week in June.”

Others pour on fertilizers guaranteed to produce giant tomatoes. I know one lady who adapted fertilizer ingredients intended for competition pumpkins just so her tomatoes would be bigger than her neighbors.

Growing exotic varieties has also become a big thing. Purple tomatoes are huge at potlucks, along with red and yellow striped ones. I even saw a black and blue one last summer.

People are quick to boast about their heirloom tomatoes. “These are a rare 1901 Iowa homestead variety. I got the seeds from a farm family who have been collecting and storing them in their tornado cellar.”

I wonder if the next step is to organize tomato races.

Mary Rea of Mazama is the author of the novel “Ladies Night Out.” Her blog is at She can be reached at

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