There were "celebrities" at the Beatrice library on Tuesday evening, and visitors were eating large, juicy chunks of them.

Celebrity—along with Early Girl, Steakhouse and Sweet Millions—are just a few kinds of tomatoes that were offered at the library’s tomato tasting event.

The event, hosted by master gardeners and the Nebraska Extension Office, featured about 30 different types of Hybrid, Cherry and Heirloom tomatoes on display in a wide range of colors and flavors.

The Lemon Boy tomatoes were bright yellow and had a citrus-like tang to them, the Black Cherry tomatoes were small and sweet and the pink Brandywine tomatoes had a savory flavor to them.

The 30 varieties at the library are just a drop in the bucket when compared to the estimated 15,000 different types of tomatoes that are grown around the world, said Marlene Gakle, master gardener.

“They came from all over the area,” Gakle said. “Different gardeners brought them and donated them.”

On a long row of white folding tables in front of the Beatrice library, plates with sliced, tomatoes awaited guests ready to pick their favorite tomatoes.

Joyce and Greg Morgan said the Black Cherry tomatoes were their favorite. Joyce has grown her fair share of tomatoes, she said, and even had some advice on eating them.

“I make my little BLTs, but I don't put 'L' in them,” she said. “I put 'S' in them. I put spinach. You have better nutrients and different things.”

This was the fourth tomato tasting held at the library, said master gardener Lisa Clabaugh. It’s an attempt to get people excited about the potential hidden in the dirt in their backyards.

“We're promoting the seed library,” Clabaugh said. “Getting people to come out and get them hyped up on planting new varieties--not just the same old ones that are in all the stores and nurseries.”

Clabaugh—who grew the dark red Steakhouse tomatoes for the tasting—said the seed library works a lot like the regular library, only you don’t need a card to use it. You don’t even need to be a resident of Gage County.

Located inside the Beatrice Library, the seed library is a bit like a card catalog. From apples to zinnias, the library keeps its seeds for fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs in alphabetical order. Visitors fill out a slip of paper, write down which ones they took and take it home for planting.

During the winter, she said, the master gardeners spend their time repackaging seeds for the spring. Most of them come from local growers, especially the flower seeds, she said.

Nicole Stoner, a Gage County Extension educator, said that the Extension office provides education and volunteer opportunities to the master gardeners. Master gardeners are required to complete 40 hours-worth of classes to earn the title, and they must take between 10 and 20 hours each year to maintain it.

Most of the volunteer work is related to gardening, Clabaugh said, and it can include running the seed library, maintaining flower beds at the library and working in local parks and around area churches.

The tomato tasting is a part of their outreach and it offers a chance for local gardeners to show off their work. They will also be holding an iris exchange at the library on Sept. 19.

Sandy Asher grew Gilbertie Paste tomatoes from seeds provided by the seed library. The Gilbertie Paste tomato is long, about the size of a cucumber, and when it’s cut, it looks almost like slices of salami.

“I had four different varieties this year, and they were all from the seed library,” Asher said.

The gardeners had the chance to meet and discuss their work during the tasting. The master gardener club is a tightly-knit group, Clabaugh said, but they’re always open to newcomers getting involved.

“We just all love talking flowers and vegetables and gardening,” she said. “So, we've all become friends because we all love the same thing.”

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