2014 – The Year of Eating Local Tasty Tomatoes Year Round

1001ddbf-3974-45b2-94f4-aacfddb53edfTomato Independence 2014, the year of eating tasty local tomatoes year round, was inaugurated by a chef/farmer dinner at Richard’s Café Vicino on January 6th. This idea forum was productive. For one thing, we learned that both farmers and chefs (a few of each) had frozen some whole fresh tomatoes for winter use; immediately, the TVFC concern for creating a year-round supply of local tomatoes took a new turn. We connected frozen tomatoes from farmers with five local chefs literally on the spot. Each chef agreed to prepare a tomato sauce for tasting, and we planned “Saucy Saturday,” our public kick-off of the year of tomato preservation. On February 1st at Edward’s Greenhouse, over 100 people agreed that local tomatoes were quite delicious mid-winter.

Following Saucy Saturday, we began to roll out our year-long Tomato Tuesday events with a focus on preservation. Tomatoes particularly suited for sauce (paste tomatoes) were featured in early spring classes on starting tomatoes from seed. The 2014 schedule included classes on canning, sauce-making, drying, and salsa-making, as well as numerous fresh tomato tasting events. Our nursery partners replicated some of 2013’s most-loved events: the salsa tasting competition at North End Organic, the Bloody Mary tasting at Franz Witte, and the 100+ varieties tomato tasting event at Edward’s Greenhouse.

By March, we were putting together our new summer “Tuesday-to-Tuesday” restaurant events, another outcome of our idea forum in January. Six local restaurants were paired with five local farmers who grow tomatoes. Beginning in August, each restaurant, supplied by a single farm, offered special fresh local tomato dishes in successive week-long featured menus. In conjunction with TVFC, a joint advertising campaign with the restaurants and the Boise Weekly began in April with the 2014 BW Bar and Restaurant Guide; the restaurants became very visible supporters of local tomatoes. They also forged relationships with their supplying farmers, a path toward ongoing use of local produce. TVFC supported the restaurants with staff t-shirts, TIP coasters, and lots of social media.

In late spring, we decided to make another effort at a community reading project after the overwhelming success of Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland in 2013. In keeping with our emphasis on integrity in the local food system, we chose another best-selling book, Tom Mueller’s Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to engage the community in a discussion of food fraud and improved alternatives for foods that cannot be locally sourced. The community-read aspect of the project was quite limited, but the culminating TVFC event of 2014, an olive oil tasting conducted by the California Olive Oil Council, was highly successful and informative.

Our final effort of 2014, which will continue into 2015, is the Ton of Tomatoes project. TVFC contracted in the spring with local growers for 2000# of fresh tomatoes to be frozen during the 2014 summer tomato harvest and sold over the winter. Idaho’s Bounty is handling sales and distribution. Production costs and demand are being tracked and analyzed using tomato production budgets prepared by University of Idaho ag economists. Farmers are participating in gathering data, and TVFC has engaged a photographer/videographer to document the project. If the trial is successful, TVFC will double the contracted tomato poundage to 4000# in spring 2015 with the goal of creating a self-perpetuating arrangement between farmers and restaurants and other institutional buyers.

In all of the 2014 activities, we remain clearly focused on increasing local tomato production. By turning our efforts toward restaurant (institutional) buyers and a commercial (albeit very small) local tomato preservation operation, we hope to inspire a significant interest in local tomato value-added products. These efforts are essential to increasing tomato production to the point of economic impact.

As we reflect on the Tomato Independence Project from its inception in 2013 through our current efforts, we are gratified to have had such amazing community partners. Together, we have made a difference, and we will continue our work to make that difference both more profound and permanent.

Susan Medlin

Susan Medlin is a member of the TVFC board.

 

Our partners:

Bardenay

Bar Gernika

Basque Market

Bittercreek/Red Feather Lounge

Boise Consumer Coop

Boise Farmers Market

Boise State University

Boise Weekly

College of Idaho

Edwards Greenhouse

Franz Witte Nursery and Landscaping

Garden of Earthly Delights

Global Gardens

Idaho’s Bounty

Modern Hotel and Bar

Next Generation Organics

North End Organic Nursery

Oliver Russell and Associates

Peaceful Belly

Richard’s Café Vicino

Spot-On Promotions

Three Girls Catering

Three Horse Ranch Vineyards

True Roots Organics

University of Idaho