If there is one thing that depresses farmers and food producers, it is seeing the fruits of their labor wind up in a compost pile, or even worse, a landfill.

It’s something that is often on the mind of Mike Sommer, the production manager at Purple Sage Farms in Middleton. The same is true at Acme Bakeshop, which bakes fresh bread and rolls daily, in Garden City.

“Any chance you have to take food out of a landfill is a great thing,” says Chelsea Harada, who works at Acme Bakeshop.

Fortunately for Sommer and Harada, as well as several other farms and commercial kitchens in the Treasure Valley, there is Rolling Tomato. The Boise-based nonprofit is a food recovery specialist with a goal to make food waste history. Rolling Tomato matches excess food with local organizations that feed those with need.

Julie D’Agostino

Julie D’Agostino, who moved to Idaho in 2016, established Rolling Tomato that year. She’s built relationships with farmers, food producers and commercial kitchens to help that surplus food land on plates.

“You need someone to take it that last mile,” Sommer says. “I don’t know who to take it to, how much they want or what they can take. For someone to come out and volunteer to do it is really incredible. She’s made it really easy for us.”

Rolling Tomato has five year-round volunteers, plus a dozen or so who pick up the surplus food from farmers’ markets and deliver it to more than 25 nonprofit organizations. Most of the food is taken to homeless shelters, transitional housing sites, food pantries, and schools.

“There’s a need for it, and we are reminded of it every time we have to get rid of a product,” Sommer says.

Rolling Tomato founder Julie D’Agostino, left, and volunteer Nancy Jones pick up excess produce from Jordan Gross of the Little Buddy Farm at a CSA dropoff site in Boise.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, there were stories of dairy farmers jumping their milk, tons of food going to waste, and animals having to be killed without being used as food.

“It’s painful for everyone to see that level of waste,” D’Agostino says. “There were some very dark images coming out. There is increasing awareness, especially after all those restaurants shut down.”

One restaurant, Bardenay in Boise, donated more than 500 pounds of proteins, grains, vegetables, and other items, to Rolling Tomato. The Record Exchange Cafe donated its milk and cream.

“They could have poured that out, but instead it went straight to the Boys and Girls Club,” D’Agostino said. “And Bardenay cleaned out its entire pantry. All that amazing food went to six different organizations.”

Access to healthy foods is one of the many factors that influence a person’s health. Rolling Tomato is helping many people overcome this important barrier.

The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health provided Rolling Tomato with a grant that helped it reach a new client — La Adelita, a Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program in Caldwell. The school has been closed due to COVID-19, leaving kids without meals and many families hungry. The irony is the people who are food insecure are the migrant workers, who work in fields of food-producing farms.

“That’s the crazy part,” says Daniel Liera, the center coordinator at La Adelita. “You have these workers who cannot afford to buy the food they are cultivating for America.”

Liera said La Adelita has about 50 families who are food insecure, and many lack transportation to get to local foodbanks or pantries. He got connected with Rolling Tomato, which recently delivered 70 pounds of organic greens from the Boise Urban Garden School and Little Buddy Farm in Fruitland, as well as 10 pounds of Acme bread.

“We were blown away,” Liera said.

The team at Acme Bakeshop have been working with Rolling Tomato for more than three years, and it’s stories like this that put smiles on their faces.

“A lot of people have tried and failed at this,” Harada said. “They didn’t have the same stick-to-itiveness that Julie has. She partners with great organizations, and it’s fun to see her (social media) posts to see where the bread goes.”

Commercial kitchens and farms in the Treasure Valley interested in partnering with Rolling Tomato can contact the organization at gorollingtomato@gmail.com. Volunteers also are needed to help pick up, transport, and drop off food.

Jordan Gross, left, and Ben Brock donate excess produce from the Little Buddy Farm in Fruitland to Rolling Tomato each Wednesday after their CSA dropoff in Boise.
Julie D’Agostino, right, drops off Acme Bakery bread and produce from the Boise Urban Garden School and Little Buddy Farm to La Adelita in Caldwell.