Cindy Leszczak grows tomatoes – about two thousand of them. What was once a way to grow enough to feed her family during a long winter has become a passion for what she calls, “Jewels you can eat.”
This year, Cindy’s filled her greenhouse with one-hundred-and-one different varieties, “like the Dalmations,” she says, as if that’s a rational explanation. She adds, “And none of them are Big Boy or Early Girl.”
Vermonter By Choice
Cindy didn’t set out to be a tomato maven. She didn’t even plan to live in Vermont. But in 1979, she visited her boyfriend’s home state and moved in. “All the people I met were quirky,” she said. “So I knew I could live here. I’d be accepted. I had a sense that living in Vermont would allow me to be the best person I could possibly be. I could experiment, and people wouldn’t hold it against me.”
It’s worked out. Cindy married the boyfriend and followed her passions. She’s been a seamstress, an interior designer, a caterer, and now a gardener. First she grew vegetables to feed her family; she then turned her artist’s eye toward color, cultivating a riot of flowers with a special fondness for peonies. Most recently, however, Cindy is indulging her gardening and culinary passions on tomatoes.
2,000 Tomato Plants Grown in Containers
She grows beefsteak, plum, mid-sized and cherry varieties. With so much first-hand experience growing, cooking, and preserving tomatoes, Cindy also has deep knowledge of this fruit that originated in the Americas and can now be found around the globe.
“Cherry tomatoes make the best sauce, and the darker the tomato, the better the flavor.”
She also thinks growing the plants in containers is best. It’s what she does with those she doesn’t give to charity or sell. “Containers require less weeding, give you more moisture control and provide warmer soil,” she says.
As the two thousand seedlings outgrow her modest greenhouse, she moves them to the south facing windows in her home. When I visited on a chilly morning in early May, she plucked a ripe cherry tomato from a full-grown potted plant in her dining room and handed it to me. Delicious.
A Ton of Tomatoes
Perhaps most remarkable, Cindy doesn’t think growing two thousand tomato plants is excessive. Last year, when she grew only fifteen hundred of eighty varieties, she gave away three hundred plants. Some when to food banks, for patrons to grown their own. Others went to volunteers to grow “a ton of tomatoes” that were then turned into sauce at the West Townshend Community Store Commercial Kitchen. She kept a hundred plants for herself. The rest of them, she sold.
Tomatoes for Everyone at Cindy’s Cottage Garden
“I have tomatoes for everyone,” she says. “I even have a Teacup Tomato for people who live in apartments. It literally fits in a teacup but produces regular sized fruit.”
The tomato plants go on sale starting the third week in May, when Cindy’s Cottage Garden opens for the season. Look for the sign at 2232 Windham Hill Road in West Townshend, or call (802) 874-4684.