Is there a market for small, green tomatoes? A story on salt, water and dying.

Is there a market for small, green tomatoes? A story on salt, water and dying.
Coffee, Red Bank, Tennessee

Sept. 6, 2023

Here at Who Knows Why Farm, there’s a very wide gap – a maddeningly, comically wide gap – between my vision for growing vegetables and the reality of what actually happens.

I have daydreams of rows upon lush rows of deep green kale, abundant spinach, tall stalks of corn, sprawling vines trailing to fat watermelons. But the reality? It's a paltry pantry for us.

Why? Behold the reasons.

Deer. Soil that’s hungry for something I’m not providing. Pests, the blanket term I call any critter that eats the vegetables before I can. My own clumsiness and pervasive ignorance. Seeds seem to disappear in the ground forever after I plant them. Why can't my garden look like the others? Who knows why at Who Knows Why Farm.

Take tomatoes. Yes, I transplant them. And add good compost. Flowers turn to fruit, but green tomatoes often stay green – oh, Ponyboy, something green does stay – but rarely red. Some get this black-bottom fungus. Others, pests. Others just seem stubborn.

Until a local market materializes for small, green tomatoes, I'm left with a question I ask myself a lot: what the hell do I do now?

Enter Sandor Katz. 

Katz, who lives up the road in Woodbury, Tennessee, is America’s "fermentation revivalist." Winner of a James Beard and Southern Foodways Alliance lifetime achievement award, Katz grew up in NYC, lives with AIDS, playfully goes by "Sandorkraut" and teaches on the ancient practice of combining salt, water and food for this magic process of preservation and bacterial transformation called fermentation.

Maybe you’ve heard of some examples. Coffee. Bread. Alcohol.

Coffee, Red Bank, Tennessee

“Ferments are central feature of many, perhaps even most, cuisines," Katz writes in The Art of Fermentation. "Immigrants crossing continents and oceans – their only belongings the ones they could carry – have often brought their sourdoughs and other starters with them, or at the very least their fermentation knowledge and practices … tangible embodiments of culture, deeply embedded in our desires and cravings, not lightly abandoned.”

For years, Katz has been my indirect teacher, his writings and mere presence steady encouragement towards confident fermenting. After all, water and salt are the main actors. For unskilled cooks like me, thankfully, it’s hard to screw this up.

These last two summers, I’ve been fermenting green tomatoes. Not canning, but fermenting: slicing, submerging in a salty brine for a day or two, tossing in a clove or two before sealing it all in a mason jar which then sits on the counter for another day or two, then transferred to the back of the fridge. (Brined green tomatoes, Katz also writes, are a “Jewish delicatessen.”)

Katz’s book, to put it mildly, is thorough and extensive; he documents pretty much everything – mushrooms, melons, greens, beets, fish, cabbage, carrots, okra (yummy and so slimy), beans, fruit – that can and has been fermented. His table of contents alone runs five pages. 

In December, as the temperatures drop, green, salty, crunchy tomatoes are delightful.

Food as a Verb thanks Whitney Drayer, senior vice-president at Morgan Stanley, for his generous support of local food and storytelling.

Contact Whitney at and 423.752.4736.

May I also confess: this is also my attempt to hold tightly to summer. To not let it go. To, quite literally, keep it in a jar for later. 

If I look closer, how many other things in life do I try to preserve? To hold onto?

How much do I resist letting go?

Nature, farming, gardening – they all teach death. For something to grow, something must die.

But, I don’t like death. I don’t like saying goodbye to things I enjoy. In fact, I often resist, argue and hate it.

Death – tiny or Big – feels frightening, vulnerable and painful to consider. 

In 2015, Sherry Campbell and five friends – gathered in “prayer and mindfulness” – started Welcome Home, a hospice home for terminally ill homeless Chattanoogans who have nowhere else to go. It is one of the most startlingly beautiful nonprofits I’ve encountered. 

“All should die surrounded by love and compassionate care,” they believe. They have served nearly 100 people in their last months of life and are opening a new permanent home. 

Campbell, such a genuine, grounded and wise friend, understands the ways society minimizes death; much of her work is to take the taboo and make it accessible. 

On Sept. 14, Welcome Home and Crabtree Farms combine to host a Death Over Dinner event. Melisaa Krell of Sweet Melissa Catering will serve a four-course dinner while table hosts guide conversation and question about death and dying. 

Registration can be found here or

Interested in sponsoring or supporting our work? Email

This Sunday, Food as a Verb introduces you to Spencer Perez, who you may not know personally, but whose work has undoubtedly affected you or your loved ones. 


Well, let’s just say this: if you like coffee, you’ll like Spencer. 

And if you enjoy Chattanooga coffee, then you've probably crossed paths with Spencer's work through Velo Coffee Roasters or his own Coffee Machine Service Co.

Spencer Perez, Coffee Machine Service Co., Red Bank, Tennessee

This Sunday, Spencer talks about the way coffee integrates with so many parts of life. It's one of my favorite interviews. Grab your mug and enjoy.

Hope everyone had a good Labor Day.


All photography by Sarah Unger. Visit

Story ideas? Interested in sponsorship opportunities + supporting our work? Feedback or questions? Email David Cook at This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support of local food and storytelling.

Regional Farmers Markets

Main St. Farmers Market

Corner of W. 20th and Chestnut St., near Finley Stadium

Wednesday, 4 - 6pm

Brainerd Farmers Market

Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave, Chattanooga, TN 

Saturday, 10am - noon

Chattanooga Market

1820 Carter Street, Sunday, 11am - 4pm

Ooltewah Farmers Market

The Ooltewah Nursery, Thursday, 3 - 6pm 

Signal Mountain Farmers Market

Pre-order online for Thursday pick-up between 4 - 6pm at Bachman Community Center

St. Albans Farmers Market

7514 Hixson Pike, Saturday, 9.30am - 12.30pm with a free pancake breakfast every third Saturday  

Walker County Farmers Market

Wednesday, 2 - 5 pm, Rock Spring Ag. Center 

Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm, downtown Lafayette, Georgia

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