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Unique tomatoes span generations for Charleroi man

Ron Paglia | For The Valley Independent - Justin Sutch of Charleroi displays on Aug. 3, 2013, the larger-than-usual tomato that grew in his garden this season. It traces its roots back to more than 50 years ago when the initial seeds from the gardens of his grandfather, John Olexa, were saved and replanted each year.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Ron Paglia | For The Valley Independent</em></div>Justin Sutch of Charleroi displays on Aug. 3, 2013, the larger-than-usual tomato that grew in his garden this season. It traces its roots back to more than 50 years ago when the initial seeds from the gardens of his grandfather, John Olexa, were saved and replanted each year.
- Justin Sutch of Charleroi displays on Aug. 3, 2013, the larger-than-usual tomato that grew in his garden this season. It traces its roots back to more than 50 years ago when the initial seeds from the gardens of his grandfather, John Olexa, were saved and replanted each year.
Justin Sutch of Charleroi displays on Aug. 3, 2013, the larger-than-usual tomato that grew in his garden this season. It traces its roots back to more than 50 years ago when the initial seeds from the gardens of his grandfather, John Olexa, were saved and replanted each year.

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Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Most genealogy aficionados trace their roots by studying family trees.

For Justin Sutch of Charleroi that process also involves tomatoes.

“My grandfather planted the original tomatoes about 50 or so years ago,” said Sutch as he proudly displayed a larger than usual tomato harvested in his home garden. “So, we are keeping that tradition alive again this year, just as members of the family have done for a long, long time.”

Sutch's tomato measures seven inches across the top and shows a circumference of 22½ inches. It weighs nearly five pounds.

“Yes, it is much bigger than most tomatoes, especially the others in our garden this season,” he said. “It is about six or seven times larger than the others. It is very juicy and obviously delicious.”

Sutch said there is no technical name for the tomato but he and others often refer to it as “one of John's specials.”

“John” was Sutch's late maternal grandfather, John Olexa, who was well known for the myriad vegetables he planted at his garden in Speers for many years.

“People always talked about my dad's gardens and the wonderful vegetables that evolved there,” Sutch said. “He loved to share everything with family and friends and neighbors. He took a lot of pride in what he did with those gardens.”

When Olexa passed away, his wife, Sue Olexa – Sutch's grandmother — perpetuated the tradition of using seeds from those vegetables – especially the tomatoes – to create a new crop each year.

“My grandmother would save the seeds at the end of each season and have them ready to go the following year,” Sutch said.

The tradition was passed on to Sutch's parents, Sam Sutch of Fallowfield Township and the late Carol Sutch.

“They passed the seeds to me about eight years ago and I've been using them since then,” Sutch said. “I think my grandfather would be very pleased to know that his original idea is still continuing.”

Sutch is quick to note that the extra-large tomato being displayed these days was actually planted by his daughter, Kayle, 13.

“She has really taken to the idea of keeping the family tradition alive,” Sutch said. “She has been a big help with our garden.”

Other tasty treats in this year's Sutch garden include garlic, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans and onions.

“We have been sharing everything with our family and friends,” Sutch said. “There's nothing like fresh vegetables that come directly from the garden to your dinner table.”

Sutch's wife Kimberly lends her talents to the success of the gardens by making pickles and tomato sauce for canning and use during the winter months.

The process will begin again early next year.

“My wife and I start planting on Feb. 17,” Sutch said. “It's the same time every year. It's something we enjoy and there's the added pleasure of knowing that those seeds are still producing quality results. They truly do span the ages.”

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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