One of the joys of moving to Ithaca is simply sublime tomatoes. My roommate in grad school introduced me to "real" tomatoes late in life, with a tomato picked up from Berkeley. I felt like a Platonic cave dweller, for the first time exposed to the true thing. I quickly learned that such perfection is really only available a month or two during the year, and only available from serendipity. Even some of the best restaurants I've been to have not been able to deliver a consistent tomato experience. But Ithaca in late August was always a heavenly time where visits to the farmer's market will yield a pretty good shot at a great tomato (eaten by itself, or maybe toasted with fresh basil and mozzarella on a slice of ciabatta). Not so this year. Most of the north east crop apparently has succumbed to the Blight (a variant to what caused the Irish Potato famine).
Dan Barber - Owner and Chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns (the current contender for the "it" celebrity chef, only chef on Time's 100 most influential list, and probably the chef of the best meal I've ever had) offers an interesting reason why... the expansion of gardening, promoted in part by Michelle Obama which has led to a greater dispersal of globalized tomato plants to untrained amateur home gardens who increased the geographical reach of the disease, but also led to more grown by people who didn't know how to identify and deal with it. To be fair, I think Barber supports very much the trend of home gardening, but still an interesting story.