Walking around his neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley in 2009, Rick Nahmias noticed all the fruit that would fall from his neighbors’ trees and rot. The recession had begun the year before, and people everywhere were struggling to make ends meet.
And then he made a connection: rotting food and the need for it. It wasn’t long before Nahmias set about to pick fallen tangerines from his neighbor’s tree. After dedicating a few weekends to picking, he collected 800 pounds of fruit and donated it to a local organization.
From this grassroots movement he saw the opportunity for growth, and from it Food Forward was produced.
In the eight years since, volunteers and staff from Food Forward have rescued 300,000 pounds of produce from farmers markets, orchards and the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market.
The organization is addressing issues like food waste, said Laura Jellum, the nonprofit’s outreach and communications director.
“Forty percent of food is wasted in the U.S.,” Jellum said, a lot of which is due to food not being cosmetically perfect, confusion over expiration dates or forgotten food in the back of refrigerators.
Food Forward provides free and healthy food to communities across eight counties in Southern California that might otherwise not have access to it.
“Once the food is recovered, it is directly donated to 150 agencies,” Jellum said. “The produce we recover can reach up to 300 agencies.”
One such agency is the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, a nonprofit in South Los Angeles that started a partnership with Food Forward last spring.
“We donate 12,000 pounds to [WLCAC] every first and third Wednesday of the month” for the community farmer’s market the committee sets up, Jellum said.
The organization has also partnered with Fremont High School in Watts, which hosts a farmers market every Wednesday after school.
The partnerships and the thousands of pounds of produce they donate are made possible by Food Forward’s three programs, the first which is its Backyard Harvesting, which started it all.
Volunteers are sent to public and private properties, where they pick fruit from trees that are donated to local hunger relief agencies.
The second is its Farmers Market Recovery program, which began at the Santa Monica Farmers Market in 2012. Food Forward collects unsold produce and food from 24 farmers markets in Ventura and L.A., averaging 35,000 pounds of rescued food every month.
Lastly is its Wholesale Recovery, which Jellum calls a “beast of a program.” Every morning, Food Forward sends two 24-foot trucks to the Wholesale Produce Market in downtown L.A. to collect pallets of fruits and vegetables. The produce is then delivered to hunger relief agencies, who distribute the food to clients and smaller agencies. Last year, an estimated 13.7 million pounds of produce was recovered and donated.
Although the growth and success of Food Forward has been “bonkers,” as Jellum described it, the organization hopes to continue expanding in more areas around Southern California, and eventually have a distribution hub where they can store produce in a refrigerator.
And as the group continues to educate people on food waste, Jellum says they hope to see more people volunteering.
“We have over 160 volunteer-powered events each month, so there’s plenty of opportunities to get involved,” Jellum said. “And we encourage people with fruit trees to sign up with us so nothing goes to waste.”
President/Executive Director: Rick Nahmias
Years in operation: 8
Annual budget: $1.6 million
Number of employees: 23
Location: 7412 Fulton Ave, Suite #3, North Hollywood, 91605