Morristown Citizen Tribune: Farmer’s Friend: Alexander makes stop at Grainger tomato farm

Posted on July 8, 2010

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander visited Grainger County today to tour a local tomato farm and sample the product that made the county famous.

            The visit to Tennessee Homegrown Tomatoes in Rutledge was a result of a luncheon held in the Capitol.

            “I attended a Republican lunch and each of the senators brought a product from their home state to the lunch. The senator from Maine brought lobster, I brought tomatoes from Grainger County,” Alexander said. “I gave each senator a bag of Grainger County tomatoes. The Georgia senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson took their tomatoes on the airplane to take them home.”

            “I asked Johnny ‘don’t they have tomatoes in Georgia?’ and he said his grandkids like to make bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches with them.”

            Alexander discussed new industry regulations in the tomato industry that, although geared toward public safety, is adding to the cost of production.

            The new regulations have been imposed by many suppliers but not yet imposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

            “The company we supply now requires us to have everyone sign in before they can enter the warehouse,” said Steve Longmire. “Hair nets are required in the production area. We have more paperwork than ever before. We are required to show our employees three hours of videos on safety and hygiene.”

            The new safety regulations are currently being proposed on Capitol Hill.

            Like all visitors, Alexander signed in before entering the facility. The senator inspected the green house before moving onto the warehouse.

            “We are concerned about food coming from overseas,” Alexander said. “That’s where food needs to be better regulated.”

            During the tour, Alexander discussed other issues such as the temporary moratorium on oil drilling by the Obama administration.

            The moratorium was in response to the oil spill caused by petroleum giant BP that has caused severe economic and environmental damage to the Gulf of Mexico.

            “I favor a temporary moratorium just like we would if there was an airplane crash, we would stop flying briefly until we could find out what went wrong,” Alexander said. “We don’t want the economic consequences of the moratorium to be worse than the environmental consequences of the drilling.”

            “We don’t stop flying just because we have an airplane crash, and we can’t stop drilling just because of one spill. One third of the oil and natural gas comes from the natural resources from the Gulf of Mexico.

            “Locally, tomato farmers use propane from the gulf to heat their green houses in the winter. If the price of propane goes up so does the price of produce.”