Tomato, tomahto

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The humble tomato is one of the most versatile foods I have in my garden. I use my tomatoes in salads, on sandwiches; I dice them into scrambled eggs, East Nashville's Tomato Art Festival, created by Meg and Bret MacFayden in 2004, drew 18,000 visitors last year. The 2011 edition is scheduled for Saturday, August 13.mush them into sauce, bake them into bread, and even eat them by themselves with a dash of salt. Throughout my summer of ripe tomato use, I am always plagued by the question: “Are they a fruit or a vegetable?”

The good folks with the Tomato Art Fest don’t particularly care, calling the tomato “a uniter, not a divider.”  Founded in 2004 by Meg and Bret MacFadyen, owners of the Art and Invention Gallery in East Nashville, the Tomato Art Fest started as an art show celebrating the tomato, with a couple of neighborhood events scheduled to promote the show. Since then, the festival has very much taken hold and grown steadily with 18,000 tomato lovers coming to join the celebration at last year’s festival.

"I love the playfulness of the event," says Meg McFadyen, one of the co-founders of Tomato Art Fest. "I love the willingness of East Nashville to participate on every level. It gives me great joy to see the smiles on everyone’s faces as they enjoy the activities. But most of all, I love the feeling of community that it inspires. It is truly a united effort to make the festival a reality each year."

The festival combines sprawling art displays with activities like tomato recipe contests, biggest/littlest tomato contests, costume-friendly parades, and a kid’s stand with crafts. There’s also multiple stages with live music, plus food, services, and tomato-themed products from tons of local vendors. Even their sponsorship levels are tomato-themed: from Roma and Homegrown to Heirloom and Brandywine.

Amazingly, all of this is organized entirely by a crew of volunteers. So understandably, they could use a helping hand. If you’re interested in helping on the day of the festival or even just the day before or the day after, fill out the form on the “Become a Volunteer” page at tomatoartfest.com to lend your help to this fun and exciting event.

This year’s festival will be held on August 13 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. at Five Points in East Nashville.  All are welcome! Visit tomatoartfest.com or check them out on Twitter (@tomatoartfest) for more information.