Tomatomania owner Scott Daigre is used to chaos — his business of growing and selling more than 150 varieties of tomatoes and 50 varieties of peppers at multiple pop-up events around Southern California is an exercise in carefully managed bedlam.
But this spring the coronavirus has provided some bigger-than-normal challenges: How do you handle social distancing at events that are usually mobbed by eager spring gardeners? If you’re Daigre, you take a big, deep breath and cancel.
“It’s a tough one,” Daigre said. “Things were going really well and we’re grateful people came out and supported us, but we have to prioritize this year, for the safety of everyone, and cancel the back end of our season.”
Luckily, Tomatomania started earlier than ever in its nearly 30-year history, with its first sales on Feb. 29. But its events that include workshops, tastings, special cocktails and a mind-blowing selection of tomato and pepper seedlings were scheduled through April 15 in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Ventura counties. One of its biggest events, at Descanso Gardens, was set for March 27-29, but the gardens closed completely on Thursday until further notice due to coronavirus concerns.
There is hope, however, for people who didn’t get to the earlier sales. The event at Otto & Sons Nursery, 1835 E. Guiberson Road in Fillmore, has been canceled, but the tomato seedlings are already at the Ventura County nursery, known for its vast collection of roses, so Daigre and nursery owner Scott Klittich decided to try something new: allow people to browse and buy their tomato varieties online and then come and pick up their packaged plants at the nursery.
They won’t do any mail orders or deliveries, Klittich said, and if people want to come and browse at the nursery, it’s open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., although check before you go as “everything is pretty fluid right now,” he said.
“We’ve taken precautions; the racks with plants are spaced out,” Klittich said. “We’re not expecting a Costco crowd here, but we’ve taken steps to be sure everyone can practice their social distancing.”
Klittich’s tech staff have worked feverishly to post 50 of the tomato varieties online in time for this weekend, and Daigre knows this is a grand experiment. “It won’t be our usual extravaganza,” he said. But if the online orders work, he’s hoping the website could be the online ordering base for other weeks. For instance, people who normally come to the Descanso Gardens sale could make their orders online and Daigre could box them up and bring them to the Descanso parking where people could pick up their orders.
Daigre also hopes to sell some plants at any farmers markets that remain open, such as the Underwood Farm Market in Somis. But, as Klittich said, everything is fluid right now. “We’re trying to be creative on the fly,” Daigre said. “We’re always experimenting ... this is just an extreme version.”