To grow a tomato is to defy America or at least the America commonly sold by peddlers.

According to them, America is a billion dollars' worth of stuff for sinks, a billion bucks' worth of armpit sprays, a trillion doses of headache powders and laxatives. That America is always faster, tougher, smarter and that is the America you invite to go to hell when you grow a tomato.

Your tomato, fresh and smooth and red in your back yard, is not fast and tough and smart. It is slow, very slow, more than three months before the first fruits ripen after you set the plants in the garden. Fast, tough and smart is what tomatoes are in the store. They are everything you don't want.

Most guys who raise tomatoes have some favorite variety among the 400-odd kinds in commerce. Some swear by Celebrity, others by Jet Star. Me, I'm a Red Brandywine fellow, but it makes no great difference, you finally wind up (after a long journey) with the great good tomato that answers to the dream and fulfills it.

Now people will say, "How can you so contentedly waddle in a tomato patch when there are wars and rumors of wars, when there are homeless folk, when there are charlatans in public office?"

It goes without saying that if we stopped growing great tomatoes the world would suddenly become a paradise.

The nation already abounds with those who meet with committees and join this and that, and who wind up in charge of potato salad at the foundation picnic. They think they have done their duty by the republic. What they have mainly done is burn gasoline, bore innocent people and generally clutter the world worse than they found it.

We are among other things animals who eat. Many of us eat too much, no doubt, but we could take a lesson from the French, who require that whatever they eat be of high quality, whether it's a peach or a pork chop. I have a new rule in our house -- do not waste any more money on peaches; they are inedible, unripe, tough and sour. You can still get decent apples, provided you drive to Waynesboro and find some Albemarle Pippins or Texas Golds.

But we are creatures of our own time. We have no say about the climate in which we grow up. We cannot change the language. We cannot by taking thought change history or change much.

If we are lucky, however, and cut down a few wretched Norway and other maples to let in the blessed sun, we can grow a tomato unsurpassed in the world, which is more than we can do with pears, polar bears or wise men, all in short supply in our region.

The tomato is one small way, maybe not so small, an American can say America is firm and sweet and real. Peddlers have perverted it for gain -- tomatoes lacking flavor, texture, color -- and have sacrificed every quality that made tomatoes worth eating in the first place.

To reverse that trend, to do one's bit to help commercial growers starve, is to do something valuable for the state.

Tomatoes in stores are the way they are because Americans keep on buying them. We are too spineless to fight back. We know good canned tomatoes are superior in flavor to most of the fresh ones being sold, but we dream back to the days when groceries sold locally grown food, not pulp from Mars. The harried decent citizen, in the few minutes left over from attendance at good-works committees, dashes to the grocery and buys lousy peaches and tomatoes, knowing they won't be worth eating. He buys them all the same as a ritual salute to the past.

But with luck and a bit of sunny earth, that same American need not be sad but for a change joyful. The ritual salute to summer produce can for a change have substance to it.

This defiance of the American norm winds up as an affirmation of what the nation could be and ought to be. A nation that cannot provide its populace good tomatoes is a nation far gone in decline, and in comparison with that shame all the blather about walking on the moon is sheer fantasy of an unwholesome nature. And this defiance of the grocery tomato is at last an act of high loyalty to the nation, though not to its corrupters.