Today’s Food Newsbits: Martha Talks Tomato Blight, Organic To Go Downsizing, Gordon Ramsay Regroups


Poor Martha! With the recent blight breakout taking down tomato plants across the Northeast left and right, apparently no garden has gone unscathed! The domestic kitchen queen posted a blog note this morning about the aggressive fungus attacking her tomato plants. She’s even kind enough to include a slideshow of the ugly attack.

While Martha notes that the fungus tends to appear in smaller batches at the end of the summer naturally, refers to a New York Times opinion piece that points fingers at home gardeners who purchase plants from larger distributors, namely Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and others. Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill, the author of the Times op-ed piece, had this to say:

“According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South and distributed them throughout the Northeast. (Fungal spores, which can travel up to 40 miles, may also have been dispersed in transit.) Once those infected starter plants arrived at the stores, they were purchased and planted, transferring their pathogens like tiny Trojan horses into backyard and community gardens. Perhaps this is why the Northeast was hit so viciously: instead of being spread through large farms, the blight sneaked through lots of little gardens, enabling it to escape the attention of the people who track plant diseases.”

You can read the rest of Barber’s piece here.

Nation’s Restaurant News reported yesterday that Seattle-based organic food company Organic To Go is quietly closing locations across the West coast, opting instead to focus on catering and wholesale. The five-year-old company, which previously operated fifteen organic cafes and distributed organic food stuffs at over 170 locations, has closed five Seattle-area spots, as well as San Diego and Los Angeles locations. Publicly traded since 2007, Organic To Go announced a plan in March to terminate their common stock registration in order to eliminate the expense of public company trading reports.

From Payard to Ramsay, celebrity chefs certainly aren’t recession-proof! As we reported back in June, Chef Gordon Ramsay has been experiencing financial strain this year, with the Washington Post penning this week about the struggling restaurant empire. According to the report, Ramsay is in the process of restructuring in the wake of defaulting on $15.7 million in loans. The chef/owner has been tightening the belt across the board, eliminating 15% of his staff and making more financially acceptable menu changes. The article notes Ramsay and his father-in-law have plunked £5 million into the floundering Gordon Ramsay Holdings.

~Jennifer Heigl