The same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s is spreading with an “explosive” rate of infection through Northeast tomato farms. Called "late blight" disease, the fungus causes white-mold-encircled gray spots on leaves, blackened stems, wilting and death. Organically grown crops are particularly vulnerable, and some farmers in Rhode Island have plowed tomato fields under at the first sign of blight. Vegetable pathologist Meg McGrath tells Newsday why everyone should probably be hoarding tomatoes: "People need to realize this is probably one of the worst diseases we have in the vegetable world." Yikes, this makes last year's Salmonella tomato scare seem like a leisurely Bloody Mary brunch!

Hot, sunny weather can kill late blight, but the aggressively infectious disease has spread rapidly thanks to June's wet weather, which, as our toes can confirm, fungus just loves! McGrath, speaking to the Times yesterday, says, "I see a day like today that’s overcast and windy, those spores are flying around everywhere, and rain tonight will bring it all down to the ground." Officials say the weather during the next week will determine whether the outbreak recedes or whether tomato crops are largely ruined, forcing millions to eat depressing white pizza.

Another plant pathologist, William Fry, has been tracking the disease, and he believes the outbreak spread in part from the hundreds of thousands of tomato plants bought by home gardeners at Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Kmart stores. Agricultural pathogens can easily spread when plants are distributed regionally and sold by big-box retailers; one major wholesale gardener tells the Times, "Farms are inspected, greenhouses are inspected but garden centers aren’t, and the people who work there aren’t trained to spot disease." Well, now that the damage is done, tomato plants have been removed from Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Kmart stores in all six New England states, plus New York.