21 Acres to host first in-person tour in almost two years

Farm Operations Lead Anthony Reyes tends to dry-farmed tomatoes. Courtesy photo

By Meghan McLaughlin

After two seasons off due to the pandemic, 21 Acres is opening its doors to the public to teach the community about dry-farming as an introduction to Sammamish Valley Alliance’s Fall Harvest. The free event on Friday, Sept. 24, from 4–5:30 p.m., includes an interactive tour of the farm and information sessions led by farmers Anthony Reyes and Ansley Roberts.

“It’s an opportunity to really go in-depth on these dry-farming practices and a lot of those different trials and experiments we’ve been doing on the farm,” Reyes said. “But it’s also a chance to see the difference between two seasons ago versus where we are now. It’s like a night and day change.”

When Reyes started as the farm operations lead in June of 2019, 21 Acres grew produces on less than an acre of land. Since then, the center has expanded production to over four acres.

Reyes arrived at the farm after working in Santa Cruz where the practice of dry-farming was popularized. He said there is a drive to implement the same practice in Washington.

“People go kind of bonkers for it,” Reyes said.

Part of the reason dry-farmed tomatoes got so popular is because of the natural water preservation that comes from the method of using less water. According to Reyes, tomatoes need to be irrigated with about 1.4 inches of water each week, putting weekly irrigation at approximately 38,015 gallons per acre.

“Assuming there are approximately 12 weeks of production, that would put a yearly use of 456,180 gallons of water per acre of tomatoes,” Reyes said. “Based on specific climates this number will be either higher or lower. In comparison, dry-farmed tomatoes receive absolutely no irrigated water.”

The practice’s benefits go beyond water conservation, however.

According to Reyes, when you strip water away from the production of tomatoes, multiple things happen. One is that it causes root systems to reach deep to access the water table, and throughout the season as that water table is receding, the roots follow that source of water, creating robust root structures.

Another is that when water is taken away from a plant, it enters a stress period and instead of focusing on producing fruit and seed, the plant solely produces as much fruit as possible. This causes the fruit to be smaller and the starches in the plant to convert to sugar rather than filling the fruit with water.

“The end result is these really potent tomato-flavored tomatoes,” Reyes said. “They’ll be a bit sweeter. Personally I think they stand up against some of the heirloom varieties that have been bred specifically for that flavor.”

Additionally, without as much water in the tomato production, the walls of the tomato are thicker, causing dry-farmed tomatoes to keep for longer, benefitting farmers and consumers.

This year, 21 Acres is experimenting with tomatoes, however, the practice is applicable to summer squash, winter squash, dry beans, corn and melons, all of which they plan to experiment with within the coming year.

Visit www.21acres.org for more information.

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