Paul Robeson Tomato

by Isabel Vinton

Paul Robeson Tomato is one of our all-time favorites, both for its story and its flavor. It wins taste tests every time!
Paul Robeson was a famous African-American opera singer, athlete, linguist, and equal rights champion who nearly had his career destroyed for standing up to the infamous McCarthy committee in the 1950s. Robeson was idolized and well respected in Russia for his courageous activism on behalf of workers' rights, civil rights, and economic equality.

In the tradition of many Russian plant breeders, this exquisitely flavored tomato was named after him — to forever embody his legacy in seeds that could be shared and passed from hand to hand, garden to garden, farm to farm. Part of this practice is the understanding that when you plant a seed you become part of its story. Our gardens become reminders of how we are all connected and collectively responsible for caring for the earth and each other.

We wanted to show the continuation of Robeson's work through the art on our pack, so we commissioned cut-paper illustrator Molly Costello to create an artwork that did so. Costello often works at the intersection of gardening and culture, sustenance and spirit.

"I make art because I know that everything begins with imagination," says Costello. "In the past 7 years I've turned my focus on themes of connectedness. In this broken world, where do we find healing? It was really fun coloring in the tomato itself because it has such lovely color notes, but the focus is definitely more on the people and their relationship with the tomato; the reciprocal acts there of planting and tending and harvesting. I incorporate stars in almost all my art pieces to try to articulate some invisible aspects of our world: our connected energies; the aliveness of fruit; our hopes that we pour into each seed and into the soil."

Costello hopes that her art and the Art Pack will help people "see beyond the surface. I think there is a lot more going on in our world than cells splitting and organizing themselves. There is something holy about a fresh juicy tomato in the warm summer sun. Ask anyone. It’s a sensation that fills your whole being. It draws in memories and comfort and nostalgia. Who's to say that that tomato didn’t intend to offer you just that experience? And in saving and sharing of those seeds, aren't we also ensuring those shared experiences for each other? "

Growing Paul Robeson Tomato
Days to Germination    5-10 days
Days to Maturity    80 days
Planting Depth    1/4 inch
Spacing in Row    24 inches
Spacing Between Rows    36 inches
Height at Maturity    48 inches
Width at Maturity    18 inches
Start seeds indoors, 6-8 weeks before last frost. Seeds germinate best at 80 degrees F. Do not over water, and keep temperature warm but not hot to prevent damping off. Transplant outdoors after threat of frost has passed. Provide with proper support. A bit of pruning increases yield of fruit. Keep evenly watered, and water at the base of the plant if possible to help reduce occurrence of disease. Harvest when tomatoes are fully ripe—deep red at the base, gently yielding to the touch—for outstanding flavor.