At a dinner at Cafe Vicino in early January--when the thought of a juicy summer tomato seemed like a distant, feverish dream--dozens of local farmers and restaurateurs gathered to discuss the 2014 tomato growing season.
Considering the vast scope of the local-foods movement--heirloom seeds, pest management, processing, restaurant distribution--it might seem myopic to focus on one crop. But the Treasure Valley Food Coalition doesn't see it that way. Last year, the Boise nonprofit selected the tomato as its "gateway crop," in order to ignite a larger discussion about the local-food system.
"Really, it's the Trojan Horse of vegetables," explained TVFC's Janie Burns.
By encouraging people to grow their own tomatoes and eat local tomatoes in season, Burns and her cohorts hoped to open people's palates to the superior taste of locally grown food. And their movement to "End the Tyranny of the Tasteless Tomato" isn't over yet.
In year two, the Treasure Valley Food Coalition is expanding its scope beyond tomato seed-saving classes and salsa festivals to actually link local tomato growers and local restaurants in the thick of the harvest season.
At the dinner, Burns asked each farmer stand up to talk about the varietals they were most excited to grow and each restaurateur to muse on how they'd like to utilize those tomatoes on their menus.
"We have a tomato from Scary Larry the Ice Cream Man," explained Casey O'Leary of Earthly Delights Farm. "It's a paste [tomato]; it's not very uniform. Some of them are kind of sausage-shaped and some of them are kind of bigger ox heart-shaped. I'm pretty excited about that one."
Other farmers dropped offbeat names like Sasha's Altai, Box Car Willie, Cherokee Purple, Bloody Butcher and Amish Paste.
"A new paste tomato we tried because one of the buyers wanted us to grow it specifically for them was the San Marzano," said Grace Davila at Rice Family Farms. "They did really well."