Consumers, restaurant owners are feeling pinch of tomato crop

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    WARWICK-Ah summertime. One of the joys of summer, along with long, hot, leisurely days, is enjoying ripe, luscious tomatoes. That season is long gone but tomatoes are always available, thanks to warm growing seasons in places like Florida and California. Anyone who has been shopping for tomatoes lately, though, knows that the choices are slim and the prices are not. Over the past few months, big tomato producing areas have experienced worse than poor weather conditions. Nearly half of all tomatoes sold in the United States are grown in Florida. Tomatoes are the Sunshine State's second largest crop n only more oranges are grown there. With five major hurricanes in less than two months, Florida's crop of tomatoes has been diminished by about half, according to one report. Consumers and restaurant owners everywhere are certainly feeling that. "I just paid $60 for a case of tomatoes today," said Michael DiMartino, owner of The Landmark Restaurant in Warwick. "I found a distributor selling for $48. We go through two cases a week." And that's because tomatoes are not in season right now. When they are in season, DiMartino and other restaurant owners go through many more cases each week and buy much of them locally. DiMartino changes his menu seasonally, the last change being in October. With fall upon us and winter coming, the menu at The Landmark turns to colder weather vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes. But tomatoes are a staple, DiMartino said. Year round, he uses tomatoes in salads and on sandwiches and hamburgers. When they are no