Happy New Year to everyone out there on the Interwebs! #TeamTomatoJos wants to apologize for our very long silence, give you an update on what’s new in Panda, and share our new year’s resolutions.
First, the apology - we're sorry! Operations over the past 6 months have consumed the team, and we forgot to keep our followers informed. Maybe this would have been a more appropriate video to accompany this blog post:
So now let's move on to the fun stuff - here's the gist of what went down. In July, we worked with NARICT to perform a number of test runs on their equipment, and we actually produced some samples!
The only problem was, we couldn’t get the product to be consistent. Sometimes we were able to use the packaging machine to fill our sachets, but sometimes we had to hand fill. Sometimes we got great color, but sometimes the product looked more brown than red. Sometimes the tomatoes took 30 minutes to parboil, and sometimes they took longer.
On a #TeamTomatoJos trip to California in August, our friends at UC Davis and Los Gatos Processing gave us some advice about the equipment: pumps we needed to buy, additional controls we needed to put in place to regulate the steam system, etc. After all, we’re repurposing equipment that was originally intended to make tomato puree, not paste. In the months following the visit to California, the price of tomatoes in Nigeria proved too high for the team to continue test running, and we decided to put processing operations on hold as the next farming season was looming around the corner...
Which brings us to our second point: what’s new in Panda? A lot! For starters, we have a whole bunch of new equipment from California, Israel, and Italy, which will significantly boost the performance on our nucleus farm. The team shed too much blood sweat and tears to measure getting all that equipment cleared at the ports in Lagos, but we finally managed to bring everything up to Panda.
We worked round the clock to get our seedlings grown...
Our ground prepped...
Our irrigation system set up...
And we transplanted our first hectare on Christmas Day! It really was a Christmas Miracle.
Our plants are looking healthy and happy, and the team is gearing up to transplant the rest of the field in the coming weeks. On the smallholder front, we met with village heads, lead farmers, and other community leaders in and around Panda, working through over 100 candidates to find our core group of farmers for the season.
The farmers asked lots of questions, and we asked a lot of questions, and we took our sweet time to get to know each other in the months leading up to the tomato season so that we would all be comfortable working together this year.
And so far , things are going great! #TeamTomatoJos helped the farmers to transplant on their fields in early December, with much jubilation (and maybe a little palm wine too). The plants are growing, the flowers are flowering, the fruits are fruiting… We have to say, we’re pretty darn excited about what this year will yield.
Which brings us to the last point: New Years’ resolutions! We solemnly swear… that we are up to no good. Ok, maybe that wasn't funny. Harry Potter jokes aside we DO have some resolutions, and we’d like to share them with the group so that you can keep us honest over the course of the year. So without further ado...
- We will post more regularly on the blog and through our social media outlets than we did in 2015. No promises, but expect something like one blog post per month out of this team, with instas, fb posts, and tweets in between.
- On the same vein, we are starting a farmers’ mailing list! #TeamTomatoJos continues to receive emails and visits from farmers all over Nigeria, and we’d like to experiment with a few different ways to turn all that interest into a community. So from time to time, we will email our interested friends and followers a few fun facts about tomatoes, and elicit their thoughts on various farming topics. Get excited! We know we are :)
- We will finally, finally get tomato paste out to our kickstarter backers! I know we are almost a year behind schedule, but 2016 is the year. In 2015 we got a few samples under our belt, and this year we know we can produce commercially. Let’s do it!
Ok friends, if you’ve made it this far, THANK YOU once again for your continued support, and for your faith in Tomato Jos. We are so, so grateful for the support we get from all of you, and we’re really excited for the year ahead!