The Blessings Of Bounty

By Sarah Spitz

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The Blessings Of Bounty
CSUN 2016 Big harvest at CSUN. Photo by David Hawkins
At the end of one year and the start of a new one, we take account of that which is meaningful in our lives. And that’s what my last column of the year is about. If I told you there’s a highly effective, efficient and sustainable non-profit organization that leverages 24 times social impact returns on every dollar donated, better than most stock market investments achieve, would you believe me? You should. The organization is Food Forward (www.foodforward.org) and I’ve been a fan of its mission, a volunteer and supporter since its inception. Food Forward celebrates its 15th anniversary in January, 2024, and is devoted exclusively to bringing healthy fresh produce to communities experiencing food and nutrition insecurity. How did its modest $7 million budget manage to reap $153 million in social impact returns in 2023? The formula sounds simple: recover quality produce that would otherwise go to waste and donate it instead to hunger relief agencies to feed those in need. But how that is accomplished is anything but simple. From its first volunteer-powered backyard harvest of 800 pounds of citrus fruit—donating the entire haul to SOVA, a Valley food pantry—to today’s (steadily increasing) total of 370 million pounds (175,000 tons) of fresh produce distributed to more than 250 hunger relief partners, Food Forward has grown into a mature organization, on a solid footing to last well into the future. You could say it’s helping to build generational health. Food waste in the U.S., valued at $444 billion, is roughly 2 percent of GDP, according to ReFed (https://refed.org). Not only are the resources for growing produce (water, seed, soil, labor, transportation and more) being wasted, the wasted food creates environmental harm, including the release of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.
Food Forward’s food recovery work has been shown to prevent 215 times more greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere than operations emit. Adding “The Juice Box” EV Van to the fleet tips the scales even more.
2013 the first van—now they’ve gone electric!
Typical delivery stored inside The Produce Pit Stop.
Loading dock at The Produce Pit Stop.
This table is in honor of the 10 millionth pound of recovered produce. As of today, it’s nearly 380 million pounds… and growing!
2016 Happy recipients.
2013 First Glean Team at Santa Monica Farmers Market. All photos courtesy of Food Forward unless otherwise noted.
Unlike food banks, which focus on shelf-stable products, Food Forward deals in perishable fruits and vegetables, harvested from backyards, private estates and public spaces, from gleanings at the end of numerous weekly SoCal farmers markets, and from daily collections of pallets left behind at the Downtown Wholesale Produce Market (the major food shipping center for the U.S.).

In 2019, Food Forward created the Produce Pit Stop, a refrigerated warehouse in Bell that now serves as the hub for daily produce donations from the Wholesale Market and growers and shippers across the region and the country. In 2020, the warehouse expanded, adding The Sprout, an additional loading dock with more storage capability.

Over the years, Food Forward has developed sophisticated logistical systems to track and rescue the produce, keep it refrigerated until it’s distributed, and to make sure it gets to the hunger relief agencies that use it to feed their clients. Other organizations across the country look to Food Forward as a model of what can be done in their communities.
Every day in 2023, a massive mixed salad of produce—enough to provide the nutritional needs of more than a quarter-million people daily—moved through the Produce Pit Stop. What began as a Craig’s List shout-out, seeking volunteers to harvest trees in Food Forward Founder and Executive Director Rick Nahmias’s neighborhood, has grown to be the largest independent urban-based produce reclamation and gleaning organization in the nation.

How’s that for 15 years of positive progress? You can join the effort in several ways: if you have backyard fruit trees, sign up to have volunteers harvest your excess bounty. If you’re a fan of farmers markets, sign up for one of the Glean Teams to collect produce at the end of the market day. Or just sign up to pick at one of the many harvests across the Southland.

Find out more at www.foodforward.org and while you’re there, consider a donation to one of the best non-profits operating in Southern California and the country.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.

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