They’re just better.

By Emma Phelps
July 19, 2021
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Every summer right as the July heat creeps its way into the end of June, Hanover tomatoes hit the shelves at local farmers' markets and grocery stores in Central Virginia. For Virginians, this is the official indication of the start of summer.

There's nothing like sinking your teeth into a juicy tomato and mayo sandwich on a hot afternoon, and there's no better tomato for that sandwich than Hanover-grown.

Hanover tomatoes
Credit: Village Garden Farm

The Hanover tomato gets its name from Hanover County, located slightly North of Richmond, Virginia, and just a quick 30-minute drive from where I grew up – thank goodness for that.

As a child, I wouldn't touch a tomato with a ten-foot pole, let alone eat them in a sandwich, but now I've come to love their tender and refreshing taste. Although all fresh tomatoes in the summer are great, I am especially partial to Hanover-grown.

State loyalties aside, they really are just better.

"The Hanover tomato is defined by its soil, not by its variety," David Hunsaker, a farmer at Village Garden RVA in Hanover, says. "So, you're looking at this strip of sandy soil, and that soil is what makes Hanover tomatoes what they are."

The sandy, coastal region, mixed with a little Virginia red clay, if you're on Hunsaker's farm, makes for a richer flavor in this bright crop. All of the growing circumstances – soil pH, composition, rain, and sun – marry to produce the Hanover.

If I hadn't already convinced you that it's the superior tomato, Patrick Willis, the Executive Chef of Lemaire Restaurant at Richmond's Jefferson Hotel, agrees.

"They are central Virginia's most famous ingredient and are ripe with acid and concentrated tomato flavor," Willis says. "At the restaurant they are the star in my Hanover Tomato Gaspacho because they add such wonderful flavor." 

Joe Sparatta the chef and owner of Southbound, another award-winning restaurant in Richmond shares a similar sentiment on Virginia's star fruit.

"I'm from New Jersey – born and raised – and people say the best [tomatoes] in the country come from NJ," Sparatta says. "After being here in Virginia for the last ten years, I absolutely believe the best tomatoes do come from Hanover County, and the best tomato growers are Village Garden farm."

Sparatta opened Southbound in 2014 with fellow chef Lee Gregory with the goal of including locally grown produce in their unique-Southern dishes. As owners of multiple restaurants around Richmond, Sparatta and Lee have used Village Garden RVA in Hanover County for their tomato supply for the last 10 years.

This farm grows 200 varieties of tomatoes and supplies many of Richmond's celebrated restaurants with the summer fruit.

David Hunsaker and Barbara Hollingsworth, Village Garden Farm
Credit: Village Garden Farm

David Hunsaker and Barbara Hollingsworth, the faces behind Village Garden RVA, turned their passion for gardening into a grass-roots style business. They established relationships with Richmond's best chefs by visiting door-to-door and offering the best fruit possible.

The magic Hanover soil, a good layer of compost, and some TLC are all David and Barbara use to grow their expansive tomato crop on just 10 acres of land.

So visit Virginia for the summer, order the Panzanella Salad from Southbound, which features Hanover-grown tomatoes in all their glory, then stop by the South of the James Farmers' Market on Saturday morning, and say hi to David and Barbara.

If you're nice, they may even invite you back to the farm for a Hanover tomato sandwich.