Solano County’s secret tomato history

The 26th annual Fairfield Tomato Festival kicks off this week, a celebration of Solano County’s No. 4 cash crop (in 2016, but No. 1 for the previous two years). It’s also our favorite salad item and the main ingredient in our best-selling hotdog condiment.

Yes: Tomatoes!

While all those facts are reason to celebrate the tomato, there is another, less obvious explanation: Tomatoes played a key role in nearly every major event in Solano County history.

Yes, Solano County has a SECRET TOMATO HISTORY, partly the subject of urban legends, partly the cause of our greatest problems, partly the secret ingredient to what makes this place so special.

Let’s take a look inside Solano’s SECRET TOMATO HISTORY:

Ancient history: Archaeologists dates settlement in Solano County back thousands of years – artifacts have been found in Green Valley that date back to 2000 B.C. (they’re early golf clubs, which suggests that Green Valley has long been a center of upper-crust economics). What’s most interesting for tomatophiles? Rockville Hills Park reportedly has cave drawings that portray early man using ketchup on Solano buffalo, suggesting that 4,000 years ago, tomatoes were already thriving here. Buffaloes, too.

Modern settlement: In 1835, the government of Mexico commissioned Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo to colonize the areas north of the San Francisco Bay as a buffer against the Russians (Russians! Or was it 19th century fake news?) and to protect settlers from “hostile Indian attacks.”

That government lasted until 1846, when the California Republic was briefly established before California became part of the United States. Historians say the key moment may have come when Vallejo tried to raise the Mexican flag above his compound and the flag was pelted by residents who threw tomatoes at it. Solano County tomatoes led to California joining the United States!

Founding Fairfield: In 1903, Fairfield became the final of seven towns in the county incorporated into cities, becoming the county seat. There was talk of adding an additional city – including discussions about Green Valley, Birds Landing and Elmira. That discussion ended when a descendant of Fairfield founder Capt. Robert Waterman stood up at a town meeting and shouted, “I don’t think there should be eight!”

The speaker was drinking a tomato-based concoction and some residents mistakenly thought he said “V8.” In an act of rebellion, they lobbied the Campbell’s Soup Company to begin making the No. 1 vegetable juice in America: V8, with a main ingredient of tomatoes.

Travis Air Force Base: During World War II, the U.S. Army established the Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base east of town, beginning the history of the most important organization in city history. In 1951, it was renamed Travis Air Force Base, after the death in a plane crash of Gen. Robert Travis.

Throughout the Cold War, Travis Air Force Base was a stronghold, anchoring missions all over the world. Unbeknownst to most people, Travis personnel had a secret motto during those dark hours: Travis Overpowers Multiple Attack Terror Options.

Yes, TOMATO.

There’s more: The real secret to the Nut Tree, the event that brought us Lake Berryessa, the property on which the Solano mall is built and more.

But that’s for another time, since this is about the Solano County’s SECRET TOMATO HISTORY and to tell everything would give away the secret.

So next weekend, enjoy your time at the Tomato Festival. Listen to the music, buy some food, go into the tents. But more than anything, remember this: The tomato isn’t just one of our leading agricultural products.

The Solanum lycopersicum (seriously! It almost has “Solano” in its name!) is our history.

And our destiny.

Reach Brad Stanhope at bradstanhope@hotmail.com.

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