BOISE, Idaho — Thousands of perfectly good meals end up in Treasure Valley landfills every day.
The USDA estimates more than a third of food produced in the United States goes uneaten, totaling upwards of 125 billion pounds of food in the trash.
Those statistics don’t sit well with Julie D’Agostino. That’s why she started Rolling Tomato in 2016.
“We find perfectly good excess food and we get it quickly and safely to local organizations that can use it,” D’Agostino said.
D’Agostino does some of the deliveries herself but largely runs the logistics of the nonprofit with the help of more than a dozen volunteers.
From bakeries and restaurants to hospital kitchens and locally-owned farms, Rolling Tomato recovers truckloads of food every week that would otherwise go to waste.
“Last year, we collected over 17,000 pounds of food, that more than doubled what we did in 2019,” D’Agostino said. “Collectively, since we started at the end of 2016, we’ve recovered over 37,000 pounds of food.”
D’Agostino and her crew stop by Acme Bakeshop in Boise four days a week to pick up leftover pallets of brioche, baguettes and assorted breads. They then take them straight to community schools and food pantries.
“These are going to Whittier School,” D’Agostino said. “The kids can take it at the end of the school day and I hear there’s never any extra which is exactly what we want to hear!”
They make the process as seamless as possible for local food producers. The team goes straight to the source to pick up the excess items, then drops them off directly to local nonprofits including the Boys and Girls Club, Women’s and Children’s Alliance, Good Samaritan Home, and local senior centers.
“Having Julie come out makes it very convenient for us,” said Steve Spiteri at Ohana No-Till Farm in Meridian. “We have extra food; Makes sense to give it to people who need food.”
The farm donates heaps of fresh greens to Rolling Tomato every week that help City of Good fill out weekend meal kits for local kids.
And any leftovers become a snack for wildlife on the mend at the Ruth Melichar Bird Center and Idaho Black Bear Rehab.
“We put a lot of effort into growing this food and to grow it the very best way we possibly can,” Spiteri said. “If it doesn’t get used, and just gets tossed in a can, well that’s sort of unfulfilling, right?”
Many items picked up by Rolling Tomato are seasonal with a short shelf life, which makes it crucial they get into the hands of organizations in need right away.
“I just picked up beautiful rhubarb from the Idaho Botanical Garden,” D’Agostino said. “By July, I’m getting tons of cucumbers and zucchini, pounds and pounds of it, because they know there’s a lot more coming!”
It’s a lot of heavy lifting, but the hard work saves local nonprofits a big part of their budget they would have otherwise spent on food.
“Very often it’s very good quality food and produce. We get a lot of organic stuff. This is gorgeous bread,” D’Agostino said. “So they really love that they have this good quality food to offer their populations.”
She said her hope is eventually every bakery, restaurant, and food producer around makes sourcing out their excess part of their everyday practice.
Rolling Tomato works with more than 20 food producers across the valley and donating comes with its own perks.
All food donations are tax-deductible. The CARES Act, signed into law last March to address the COVID-19 pandemic, now increases the charitable contributions cap for food donations from 15% to 25% of net income.
For businesses worried about liability after donating, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, passed in 1996, provides protections to food donors as a way to encourage food recovery, help those who are food insecure, and cut down on food waste.
To learn more about becoming a food donor or recipient with Rolling Tomato, click here.