Avery Community Celebrating the Past with Completion of New Tomato Shed
By Maggie Taylor
For six decades, Avery was the center of the tomato industry that was a $1 million-plus boom to the Red River County economy. The first Tomato Festival in Avery was held in 1931 and later festivals included political stump-speakings, free "picture shows," parades, and dances. Avery set a shipping record in 1946 with 329 rail cars loaded. By 1947, tomatoes provided a $1.1 million economic boost to the county.
Doug Gortney, who is a member of the Avery city council, headed up the fundraising efforts for the tomato shed. The city received a Lennox Foundation grant and matched that dollar amount to fund the construction of the tomato shed. Those funds built the building in whole and the fundraising committee raised the remaining amount needed for completion. In total the city received $75,000 worth of cash donations.
The fundraising committee raised the money for the stage, sidewalks, and all the lighting under the tomato shed. The committee sold a total of 310 bricks for the construction of a memorial pathway. “This is only phase one, we plan to continue having fundraisers and hope in the near future to add on to the tomato shed with a concession area, bathrooms, and a museum,” says Gortney.
Tentative plans are to build the addition with the old wood planks from the original tomato shed that stood back in the 1900’s. When finished they plan to put the equipment that was in the original tomato shed inside for the community to see. “We want to put stuff concerning the original tomato shed and the old tomato harvest,” stated Doug Gortney.
Fairly soon the committee is wanting to begin hosting a variety of events at the tomato shed. Doug says, “Farmers markets, arts and crafts, bands, and a kids movie night. We want to be selective of the things people bring but also wish for many community members to make special items.”
Eileen Stearman of Texarkana, Texas, spent 11 days in Avery and painted the mural on the back wall of the tomato shed. Eileen contacted the city and offered to come and paint the mural as a donation. She said, “My husband was from around here and his parents were very viable people in the community. I felt that I should give something back to the city and this was my gift.” The mural she painted was inspired by historical books she had read and old articles and pictures she had seen of the original tomato shed.
Gortney was obviously very proud of the beautiful mural. “Had it not been for Mrs. Eileen this would just be a building,” he explained. “ Now it is more than just a building to me and the surrounding community.”
The city of Avery will be planning a grand opening for the new tomato shed. They hope to have a live band, hotdogs, hamburgers, and a ribbon cutting ceremony. They will discuss the date and time of the grand opening at their next council meeting.