The Value of a Tomato

This should be simple. A commodity, with known nutritional content and availability. Well established supply and demand and therefore pricing. But it’s much more complex.

Obviously the value of any given thing rests with the holder, buyer or seller of the thing. If you don’t like tomatoes, aren’t part of the tomato value chain and don’t invest in tomato sales, you probably don’t give a flying sauce for the value of a tomato.

But this post is about how value is derived. Hater of tomatoes or not, there’s a lesson about the value proposition in this story.

As many entrepreneurial ventures do, it began as I wondered what value growing tomatoes had to me. I start seeds in March, nurture baby plants until they’re ready to go outside in May, pour water and fertilizer on them throughout the summer, and provide support until they yield fruits a compelling shade of red. It’s not deep, blood, pinkish, rosy, blushing, inflamed or sports car red. Just a simple, sunny red. 

To a friend, I lamented that critters ate my tomatoes. She suggested the local grocery store had the solution. Admittedly, they do provide tomatoes, if that’s the only goal.

Why do I grow tomatoes?

  • entertainment – the process of planting, watching for growth, discussing garden progress with fellow gardeners, watching YouTube to cure plant ills and increase yield
  • exercise – gardening provides both heavy (turning over soil) and light exercise (walking about the yard, bending, tying and weeding)
  • challenge – choosing the right varieties of seeds, dealing with varying weather conditions, generally managing the flock (the green flock)
  • thrift – growing your own seems like a more cost effective approach to obtaining tomatoes than the store; however, factoring in water, purchased soil, fertilizer and my time may render this untrue.
  • quality – tomatoes from the garden taste great. No question about superior flavour. I make my own tomato sauce, enough to last the year, which I prefer to the stuff in bottles and cans that the grocery store sells. 
  • satisfaction – there is nothing like the feeling of dashing out to the backyard and picking food you grew yourself, know is healthy, and tastes really good. To me, it feels both natural, like the natural order of the world (I have contributed to nurturing the earth1 while acting as a conscientious member of the global community) and productive – I grow my own food – I am self sufficient. 
  • spiritual – this is who I want to be – the person that is self sustaining, that protects the environment as far as I can. When I grow tomatoes, I find peace. 

I’m a fan of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs2. Fulfilling needs is a central part of the value proposition. Maslow’s theory is that humans are motived by a series of needs that they fulfill sequentially. The type of need grows more complex as the hierarchy is ascended with more complex human goals. Basic needs, required to sustain life like food and water, are at the bottom of the pyramid. Next, come the means to ensure safety and security, like shelter and means of communication. In the middle ground are social aspects, like love and companionship. Near the top are needs to be respected, recognized and free. The pinnacle is self actualization, reflected in the need to grow and achieve the best one can be. Once people have the lower order needs satisfied, they seek to achieve the next level. Have sufficient food, water and a roof over your head, then next you seek a social circle. 

Home grown tomatoes satisfy all levels of need in Maslow’s hierarchy. Here’s Ann’s hierarchy of the value of growing tomatoes:

That’s a whole lot of needs being satisfied by a packet of seeds, tools, soil conditioners, watering cans, straw hats, and other accessories used to grow tomatoes. For many customers, the buying decisions are rooted in a variety of motivations. Has this answered what the value proposition is for home grown tomatoes? It’s complex and likely a different combination of the various aspects illustrated above for every person who grows tomatoes.

Why do I grow tomatoes? 

Bruschetta. Sliced tomatoes on toast. Pasta sauce. Salad. Caponata. Chicken cacciatori. Gumbo. Curries. …ummm

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1Growing food in the backyard not only improves the local ecosystem by increasing the amount of greenery and the CO2 balance but also saves the fossil fuel that I would burn if I drove to buy tomatoes trucked into a store. I also suspect the agricultural approach I take is less invasive to the earth than industrial farming that produces the tomatoes in the canned sauce.

2Here is a general description: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

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