Rick Nahmias, Founder/Executive Director Before founding Food Forward in 2009, Rick was an award-winning professional photographer and writer whose work focused on the faces and stories of marginalized communities. His formal training as a cook, along with his exploration of California’s agricultural workforce in his body of work entitled “The Migrant Project: Contemporary California Farm Workers,” gave him a deep appreciation of and involvement in both the gourmet cooking and the food justice worlds. These varied interests, along with his conviction that access to healthy fresh nutritious food is a human right, culminated in him growing Food Forward and coming aboard as full-time Executive Director in 2011. He’s spoken on food justice issues internationally, and his work has been profiled in publications such at The Guardian, Sunset Magazine and The Los Angles Times. A winner at the LA Social Venture Fast Pitch, he’s been named a delegate to the Slow Food/Terra Madre Conference in Torino (2012,) a Ralph M. Parsons Fellow (2013,) a Food Champion by LA City Council and was a solo presenter at this year’s SXSW Eco Conference.
Amir Zambrano, Operations Director, considers himself a world citizen with Angeleno roots. He was raised in his family’s restaurants in Echo Park, working as soon as he was old enough to stop breaking dishes, and eventually owned his own Latin American Fast Food joint on Hollywood Blvd. He comes to us with 12+ years of accounting and finance experience, most recently with Yahoo! Inc where he lead projects in strategic partnerships and acquisitions integration, and system and process enhancements. His passions are traveling, backpacking, surfing and diving, and he recently became a Dive Master in Colombia where he also immersed himself in the Raizal culture, learning traditional farming practices.
Erica Gaetano, Projects and Partnerships Manager, Before she found herself up a Food Forward tree, Erica worked with many innovative start-ups in both the for- and non-profit sectors, including Kiva, Charity: Water, Sweetriot Chocolate and Glaceau Vitaminwater. She loves building brands, creating change and fruit, making Food Forward a natural fit! In her spare time, she manages a group of 30 volunteer editors as a Kiva Team Leader and tutors with Reading Partners. An east coast transplant, Erica lives in Santa Monica with her husband, and has become addicted to year-round farmers markets. She would not be able to survive without coffee, red wine, power yoga and cruising the beach on Jenny, her teal beach cruiser.
Emily Parker, Development Manager, hails from the cornfields of Indiana. Following a picturesque childhood of running around the stalks and creeping around a giant old barn, she left the Midwest and moved to NYC for college and urban excitement. After many years of gallivanting through Manhattan, where she produced myriad works of downtown theatre, she decided to move west and, soon thereafter, discovered a new passion. She found her way to Margery Tabankin and Associates and FUNDamental (both philanthropic advising firms), from which she gleaned the knowledge she’s now using to advance Food Forward. When she is not thinking about produce and food justice, she can often be found taking long urban and canyon walks with her husband and small blind dog, Stevie Wonder.
Laura Jellum, Volunteer Manager, Laura’s roots are in small-town Michigan where her taste for fruit began with the apple and pear trees in her backyard. After eating a lifetime’s worth of homemade applesauce, she headed off to college in Kalamazoo, MI only to find a budding career in music marketing, which brought her out to Los Angeles for five years. She spent another five years in Chicago DJ’ing parties and nurturing her zeal for cooking before the allure of sunshine and citrus all year long called her back to Los Angeles. Her growing passion for combatting food waste and meeting like-minded individuals led her to volunteer with Food Forward and the rest is history. She also enjoys roaming her Northeast LA neighborhood, spending time in the desert and eating her way across the city.
Rachael Maysels, Backyard Harvest Manager, spent her childhood in upstate New York amongst dairy farms, apple orchards, and temperate forests. She relocated to Southern California and found her love for agriculture and environmental activism in Santa Barbara. Acting on her “up for anything” philosophy she’s done many quirky projects such as producing biodiesel in the sticks of Colorado and delivering 11 piglets in Thailand. Rachael combined her passion for travel and agriculture through WWOOFing in the far east and studied permaculture, earth building, seed saving, and biodynamic farming. Before joining the Food Forward clan she spent six months managing farmers’ markets throughout L.A. She is always looking for adventures and kind hearted people to enjoy them with.
Samantha Hill, Backyard Harvest Coordinator, is a Los Angeles native who recently moved back to California after a 6 year stint living in NYC. While she enjoyed her time living in the big apple earning a Masters Degree in Food Studies from NYU, operating a youth education program at farmers markets by day and crafting cocktails behind the bar by night, she always knew (particularly during the winter months) Southern California would eventually be where she called home again. She is thrilled to bring her experience educating students about the importance of eating fresh, local produce to Food Forward to help Southern Californian’s further appreciate and engage with the bounty of regional fruit trees we are blessed to live among. When she isn’t advocating others to harvest fresh fruit, Samantha enjoys camping and hiking, eating mexican food, petting her 5 cats, and finding new ways to enjoy the beautiful outdoors afforded to her here in California.
Luis Yepiz, Wholesale Produce Market Recovery Program Manager, has early memories of the Sonoran Desert, Yaqui Valley. Tumbling through “mountains” of wheat, sorghum, soy and millet — juxtaposed against the harsh realities of food politics, artificial shortages, and price fixing — is where he learned first hand how fresh grown produce is such a vital commodity and so precious. Growing up Angeleno, he split his time between the family diesel mechanic business and volunteering in public radio. His family’s prolific garden in the San Gabriel Valley made overcoming food insecurity, sharing abundance, and working with those fighting hunger a natural fit. Luis brings to Food Forward his business management background as well as years working with wholesale market recovery, food banks, farmers markets, and charities throughout Southern California. He is also an award-winning poet and operatic tenor.
Leah Boyer, Farmers Market Recovery Program Manager, grew up by the Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota in the “Barn House” (a 100-year-old remodeled dairy barn) with a backyard that would make most naturalists green with envy. She developed her love of nature in this yard, catching water bugs in the creek, chasing butterflies in the prairie, and creating imaginary worlds in the woods. She went to UW-Madison to study conservation biology and cultural anthropology and then transplanted to SoCal and studied urban planning at UC-Irvine. She practiced environmental planning at a firm in Orange County, where she got to know the ins-and-outs of city and regional government. Here, she also realized she was more interested in healthy food access instead of writing environmental impact reports. When she isn’t working, she’s traveling the world, being crafty, cooking delicious food, and enjoying the vibrant neighborhoods of Long Beach, where she lives with her husband and cat, Zonker.
Sarah Natalini, Farmers Market Recovery Program Coordinator, grew up in sunny Santa Barbara, enjoying the laid-back beaches, exploring the hiking trails, and spending most summers swimming her way through a pool or the ocean. She headed off to college in Berkeley, where her passions for social justice and working with kids were born. Then it was off to Buenos Aires, Argentina for 2 years, where she taught English, learned Spanish, and traveled throughout South America as much as humanly possible. She returned to California to earn her teaching credential at UCLA and taught 2nd/3rd grade for several years. After realizing she was as passionate about improving our current food system as she was about educating young children, she dove head first into the food justice movement. She began by volunteering with Food Forward and working for a variety of organizations to improve access to healthy food. When she isn’t thinking about how to get farmers market produce to those in need, you’ll find Sarah at the beach, cooking up a new recipe, or exploring with her husband the many quirky and unique neighborhoods here in Los Angeles.
Jim Mangis, Ventura County Branch Manager, has been a gardener and nature seeker since his childhood. Growing from Midwest farm roots, he spent his childhood in Maryland, and has lived in Ventura with his family for the past 20 years. In Jim’s 40 year career, he has founded Youth Corps programs, directed Feeding America Foodbanks, managed recycling programs, and retreat centers. In all of his work, Jim has focused on volunteer service learning, and the power of community. He is also the owner/operator of the Good Tilth Organic Teaching Nursery, in Ventura, where he grows organic seedlings and plants, and assists people to grow their own food in whatever space they have. He is a fanatical vegetable grower, composter, and advocate for the soil food web. Jim and his wife, Marion, are proud of their three daughters, four amazing grandkids, and their dog, Rex, who all live nearby.