Food Forward Blog
Volunteer of the Month: Ashton Yoon


Say hello to our August Volunteer of the Month, Ashton Yoon! Ashton is an all around superstar Super Volunteer. When she is not busy with school, she is volunteering with our Backyard Harvest as a Property Scout and with our Farmers Market Recovery Program as a Glean Team Leader. She is incredibly detail oriented, which makes her a total pro when she is scoping out properties with fruit trees all over LA County to help prepare Pick Leaders for successful harvests. Ashton is also an amazing Food Forward ambassador at the Brentwood Farmers Market where she leads regularly and continuously inspires volunteers with her positive attitude and dedication to food recovery. This fantastic volunteer always gives 110% and we are so grateful to have her on our team! Read more about Ashton below.

So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?

Last Fall I wanted to get involved and volunteer with a food-related organization in LA. A Google search and a couple clicks later, I was instantly captivated by Food Forward’s admirable mission statement.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?

In the future I would like to be able to dedicate my career towards providing healthier food to a wider demographic of people while mitigating waste from food production. I was drawn towards Food Forward’s mission as the work they do is largely dedicated to these same goals.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?

In my everyday life I take classes at UCLA Extension in preparation for application to graduate school in Food Science. I am also an avid home chef!

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward? Any particular memories you’d like to share?

For me, the most rewarding parts of volunteering with Food Forward are forming relationships with the farmers at the markets and the knowledge that I am aiding in providing food to those in need.

One of the standout memories in my time with Food Forward is when it poured buckets of rain during the entire market. I was training to be a Glean Team Leader with Leah at the time and even though we were beyond soaked was very satisfied and proud of us that we persevered and collected almost 1,000 pounds of produce.

Any words of wisdom you live by?

Always approach life with a thirst for knowledge, curiosity, and sense of adventure.

Read More: Posted in Community Action, Farmers Market, Farmers Market Recovery, Los Angeles Volunteer
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The Farmers Market Recovery Program weighs in at more than 830,000 Pounds on its Third Birthday!

Three years ago on August 15, a small Food Forward glean team went to the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers Market expecting to get a few hundred pounds of produce to give to the St. Joseph Center in Venice and Step Up on Second in Santa Monica. They were blown away when they collected over 1,300 pounds! This was the Farmers Market Recovery (FMR) Program’s first event and something incredible was surely in the works!

Santa Monica Wednesday gleaners from May 2013. Look at all those boxes!

Photo: Santa Monica Wednesday gleaners from May 2013. Look at all those boxes!

The success of that first glean was largely due to the passion of the program’s inaugural manager, Mary Baldwin, the unwavering support of market manager, Laura Avery, and the generosity of the market’s vendors. It was truly an example of how a community can come together to make change for the better. As the program has expanded to 15 markets over the last few years, each step along the way has benefitted tremendously from this kind of community support. We learn from each other and have only become stronger as a result.

One of our greatest assets over the years has been our remarkable Glean Team Leaders! The commitment and passion of these individuals continually blows our minds. Compared to the small glean team we started with, FMR has had 131 Glean Team Leaders (56 currently active) and on average, 250 general volunteers per month. Some of our Glean Team Leaders have been with us since the beginning and gleaning produce is now just in their blood. They can tell you all about what they’ve seen and experienced at the markets. “This one time I was leading at the Pacific Palisades market and Emma Stone was there!” “Last weekend at the Hollywood Farmers Market, ‘The Garden Of’ donated over 800 pounds!” “We were leading at Brentwood once and it started to POUR on us but we had amazing volunteers and still gleaned over 700 pounds!”

Current Glean Team Leader, Ian Halsema, telling "fish tales" about gleaning the Santa Monica Farmers Market (GTL since 2014). Photo credit: Rachel Jacobson of Private Chef Network.

Photo: Current Glean Team Leader, Ian Halsema, telling “fish tales” about gleaning the Santa Monica Farmers Market (GTL since 2014). Photo credit: Rachel Jacobson of Private Chef Network.











We live on the experiences we have at the markets — seeing the generosity of the vendors, meeting new people genuinely interested in food justice, and feeling like we are truly helping someone out when we collectively donate over 10,000 pounds a week, all of which goes to 48 receiving agencies. To learn more about where we are gleaning and how you can get involved, check out our page on the Food Forward web site.

Curious about what’s happening next? Keep an eye out for new market gleans launching soon, including one in Ventura County!

From everyone at Food Forward, thank you so much for supporting the Farmers Market Recovery Program over the last 3 years. Here’s to many more years of glean-tastic stories!

Here is a collection of some of our glean teams and vendors from 2015, only a sampling of all the activity happening at the markets! Clockwise from top left: Glean Team Leader Heidi Johnson with Larchmont GTLs, Pacific Palisades volunteers, F&F Farms at Santa Monica Sunday, Private Chef Network volunteer Nate Romos at Santa Monica Wednesday (photo: Rachel Jacobson), Gaytan Family Farm at Larchmont Farmers Market, Calabasas volunteers with Glean Team Leaders Karen Mariglia and Rosanna O’Guynn, Pasadena volunteers, and a box of pattypan squashes donated by vendors from the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers Market (photo: Rachel Jacobson).

Photo: This collage shows some of our glean teams and vendors from 2015, only a sampling of all the activity happening at the markets! Clockwise from top left: Glean Team Leader Heidi Johnson with Larchmont volunteers, Pacific Palisades volunteers, F&F Farms at Santa Monica Sunday, Private Chef Network volunteer Nate Romos at Santa Monica Wednesday (photo: Rachel Jacobson), Gaytan Family Farm at Larchmont Farmers Market, Calabasas volunteers with Glean Team Leaders Karen Mariglia and Rosanna O’Guynn, Pasadena volunteers, and a box of pattypan squashes donated by vendors from the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers Market (photo: Rachel Jacobson).


Read More: Posted in Community Action, Farmers Market Recovery, Los Angeles Volunteer, Volunteer Organization
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Food Forward Goes to Camp!

Backyard Harvest Coordinator, Samantha Teslik, came to Food Forward with experience developing and implementing youth education programs focused around food. She recently was invited to be a guest educator at Camp Ubuntu and was thrilled at the opportunity to once again engage with students about the food related topics she’s passionate about. Read on for more about her time at camp!


At the start of this month I was afforded the opportunity to represent Food Forward at Camp Ubuntu, a summer program for kids living in the community of Watts. I was extremely excited to engage with the group, consisting of 100 sixth grade students, and discuss how they as individuals can make an impact in the fight against hunger and food waste. Little did I know, the focus of my workshop would tie in so well with the camp’s core philosophy. Ubuntu is a South African term that means, “I am because we are”, and the youth attending Camp Ubuntu participated in activities teaching them to rely on and support one another to achieve success as an individual, as a family, and as a community.

The camp took place at a neighborhood middle school and my time there was spent working outdoors near the garden, which despite being largely ignored during the regular school year had several young fruit trees bearing pomegranates, apples and persimmons. The energy of the students I encountered reflected the resilience of those neglected saplings, as each group of kids came bursting through the gate into the garden to greet me and demand more information about what I had in store.

After mentioning we’d be focusing on food waste, I could see their eyes begin to glaze over, so I quickly attempted to rebound with some staggering facts about how much perfectly good food is thrown out. This worked on a few, but I knew I had to act fast in order to avoid losing them (remember these are 11 and 12 year olds I am talking to). Luckily this was not my first time around the block with middle schoolers. “Alright, alright,” I said as some started to get restless and give me the who cares look, “So are you trying to tell me none of you have ever wasted food?” Eyes began to dart around at one another across the weathered picnic bench where they sat. Once a few brave hands were raised, they all shot up. When I asked the reasons why they wasted food, their answers were pretty typical: I put too much on my plate; I forgot about it in the fridge; I didn’t like the way my mom cooked it. But the overwhelming response was “because it looked nasty.” Kids LOVE to use the word nasty, especially when talking about food. Kids also love a good challenge, so I pulled some unusual and funky lookin’ fruits and vegetables out from my trusty Food Forward tote bag (a reward for our Super Volunteers) to capitalize on this talk of strange and waste-worthy foods and challenge the group to see if anyone was willing to do a blind taste test of some “nasty” vs. “normal” foods to see if they could tell the difference. To my surprise, just about every student wanted in, and the results were awesome. When asked to determine whether they were munching on orange, yellow or purplish black (aka “super nasty”) carrots, the findings were indistinguishable and the kids were amazed.


To some this may not seem like a lesson on food waste, but following this challenge and another where I asked if anyone was capable of eating an entire apple (dozens did this too!), the students devoured the remaining multicolored carrots while we talked together about how surprised they were by the great taste of something that looked so nasty. I used this pivotal moment to bring the discussion back to the importance of not throwing food out just because it doesn’t look like it’s worth eating. And if you take too much or aren’t in the mood to eat what’s given to you that doesn’t mean it should go in the garbage. Food, whether it be cooked by your mom or picked from the school garden, should be shared with those who may not be as fortunate to throw away what they don’t want, and by giving to others and keeping good food out of the trash, you as an individual will benefit the community in which you live.


Read More: Posted in Community Action, Food Education
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Volunteer of the Month: Tessa Lucero


Meet our July Volunteer of the Month: Pick Leader Extraordinaire Tessa Lucero! Tessa started volunteering with Food Forward in 2014 and became a Pick Leader shortly after. She has helped us to establish a presence in her neighborhood of Santa Clarita by harvesting at houses in the area, while involving her church and a local food bank. Tessa is a true food rescuer and is always eager to harvest at properties with fruit that won’t last much longer on the trees. More often than not, she has tasty creations made out of split fruit on hand and even wrote a blog entry about how to use all of that grapefruit you may find yourself with. Read more about this awesome Super Volunteer below!

So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?

I saw an article about Food Forward in the L.A. Times several years ago. I wasn’t able to volunteer then, my husband’s health was declining and I needed to spend as much time as I could with him, but I signed up for the mailing list and figured I’d volunteer at some point. I’m a runner and spend a lot of time on the streets of the city, and I was sad to see the number of trees with fruit falling to the ground to spoil. I was widowed in March 2014 and soon after that I put my name down for a pick. I liked what Food Forward was doing and was impressed by the amount of fruit one back yard could provide to the food pantries. When I saw an announcement for pick leader training I thought “I could do that!” and signed up. That was in June 2014. All it involves is one morning’s training, a pick where you shadow an experienced leader, and another pick you lead with a leader shadowing you. We’re asked to commit to one pick a month for at least six months and I had no problem with that — I like being able to decide when I’m going to volunteer. Since then I’ve led or co-led a number of picks all over the north county area.

What are some other projects you’re working on that you’d like to share?

I’m involved with my church, St. Stephen’s in Santa Clarita, and with Operation Hope which promotes financial literacy by bringing programs to junior and senior high schools. I’m also a marine insurance broker, 17 years at Marsh & McLennan, and I have been leading courses preparing insurance professionals for the CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter) designation since 1991. I’m an avid distance runner with 71 marathons and 22 ultramarathons under my belt, or more precisely under my running shoes, with races in 25 of the 50 states. Mother of two fine young adults, Camilla who’s 22 and a senior at South Dakota State and Gabriel who’s 19 and a sophomore at College of the Canyons. Cat lover who shares her home with Edmund, Fernanda, and Guinevere, all rescue cats. I’m a baker and quilter and reader and diehard public transit user. And one ongoing project is finding new recipes to use up split grapefruit!

What is your favorite memory working with Food Forward?

Favorite memory: mostly it’s the homeowners and fellow volunteers who stick in my mind. I love hearing the stories of what the Valley used to be like. The tree climbers are memorable, as are the many homeowners who have been so happy that their fruit is going to a good cause and not rotting on the tree or on the ground. I particularly enjoyed bringing a group of colleagues to a pick in May as part of a volunteer drive. Harvesting tons of fruit at the Huntington last year was also memorable, even though I dented the rollup door track at Food Forward headquarters when pulling the stake truck out of the garage!

Any wisdom you’d like to share with the world about life?

Advice I gave to graduating seniors in 2008 that hasn’t changed:
Explore your options.
Keep an open mind.
Stay fit. Exercise. The best way to see a place is to walk or run its streets.
Always be able to support yourself and any dependents you may have. Never rely on someone else to pay your living expenses.
Whether you’re adopting a pet or creating a child, remember you are responsible for its life. Don’t do anything you’re not willing to see through.
Have an emergency fund.
Don’t think “I deserve…” about tangible things. You deserve respect. You don’t deserve electronic gadgets.
Get involved. Volunteer. Reach out. Do things for others.
Never, EVER piss off the receptionist, the mail room clerk, the department secretary, or the front desk person. They have power and they will use it. Have them on your side.
Take care of your teeth. You won’t grow another set.
Keep reading and stay informed.
Take time for yourself as well as for work.

Practical advice: Start contributing to your retirement fund as soon as you find a job, at least enough to take full advantage of any 401k matching funds, and don’t raid those funds. Particularly don’t spend a retirement distribution when you change jobs. Fund a Roth IRA, too. Look at compounding interest and consider how much more that money will be when you retire.

Read More: Posted in Backyard Harvest, Community Action, Los Angeles Volunteer, Urban Fruit Gleaning
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A Birthday Celebration To Fight Hunger

Sarah Spitz, a member of Food Forward’s Board of Advisors, celebrated her birthday with a glean! On Sunday, July 5th, Sarah and group of friends collected produce at three of the markets our Farmers Market Recovery Program operates at and contributed to the recovery and donation of 3,020 pounds of produce. Read more about her day of fighting hunger below.

BirthdayGlean7.5.15L-R: Sarah Spitz, Carl Buratti, Kathy Buratti and Marlena Ross

This year, I decided that my birthday should serve a purpose a little more meaningful than just drinks, dinner or a party. With Food Forward as my inspiration, I created a two-part “Birth-Day-of-Service” and invited friends to join me.

On Sunday, July 5th, I met up with Carl and Kathy Buratti and fellow Master Gardener Marlena Ross at Mar Vista Farmers Market. Melanie Winter (Founder, The River Project) and Susan Haymer (EcoMediaGals PR) met up at Studio City Farmers Market, and photographer Michal Story ( joined the Brentwood Farmers Market team.

BrentwoodFarmersMarketCopyrightMichalStory6Volunteers at Brentwood Farmers Market prepare boxes for a donation from JCK Farms. Photo courtesy of Michal Story

Gleaning is fun especially when you’re working with an experienced glean team leader (and friends!). Ours was Chelsea Frazee, and she made it really easy. The whole system is well organized. Starting an hour before the market closed, we donned our aprons (I love aprons!) and began walking along the market route, asking each farmer whether they’d have leftover produce for Food Forward, a non-profit both well-known and well-loved at Mar Vista. As we asked how many boxes they might need, Kathy marked the number next to the farmers’ names on the erasable tracking sheet, and we folded up and gave them the Food Forward boxes. We walked the length and width of the market, stopping at each stand.

BrentwoodFarmersMarketCopyrightMichalStory15Brentwood Farmers Market, photo courtesy of Michal Story

Once we’d finished the tallying, as the market began shutting down we went back to collect the food being donated. Some farmers asked for additional boxes, which we happily provided, and once filled, we stacked them three tall and three wide on our industrial strength trolley. There were beautiful snap peas, greens, squash, leeks, phenomenal herbs, amazing plums and nectarines and more, and the French bakery which originally was uncertain whether they could provide anything called us back over and gave us some really spectacular baguettes.

BrentwoodFarmersMarketCopyrightMichalStory26Brentwood Farmers Market volunteers, photo courtesy of Michal Story

The boxes are brought to Food Forward’s weighing scale to tally the totals, which are marked on the tracking sheet, and at the end of the year, each farmer will receive a tax letter indicating how much they’ve donated. Once weighed and accounted for, the two service agencies served by Food Forward in this area, St. Joseph Center and New Life Society, had already arrived to pick up the day’s produce. One small boy was very anxious to help carry boxes to the car and kept coming back for more. They were almost bigger than he was!


Brentwood Farmers Market Bounty, photo courtesy of Michal Story

After the three farmers market gleanings were completed, we went for drinks, compared notes, and calculated that the six of us had collected close to 3,000 pounds of beautiful farm fresh produce for LA’s hungriest. A celebratory cocktail tastes especially good when you think of it as a reward for a good job done.


Brentwood Farmers Market Glean Team Leader, Priscilla. Photo courtesy of Michal Story

Part two of the “Birth-Day-of-Service” involved 13 of us on my actual birthday volunteering at the LA Regional Food Bank, where alongside two other groups of afternoon shift volunteers, we packaged almost 23,000 pounds of processed foods. My group of Super Women was responsible for 10,000 of those pounds; some of the workers at the Food Bank told us it was hard to keep up with us! It also gave me the opportunity to practice my Food Forward Community Ambassador skills, explaining to my group that Food Bank has no way of handling fresh produce, and that is where Food Forward enters the picture, salvaging beautiful, bountiful fruits and vegetables, the items most in demand by the clients of social service agencies that provide food for LA’s neediest.

For both volunteer efforts, everyone involved said “Let’s do this again next year.” Volunteering for Food Forward and for the Food Bank is, indeed, a year-round affair. I am hoping that by doing this, I’ll inspire others to give back on their birthdays and join in to “Harvest Food, Fight Hunger and Build Community.” – Sarah Spitz

Read More: Posted in Community Action, Farmers Market, Farmers Market Recovery, Food, Los Angeles Volunteer, Urban Fruit Gleaning, Urban Hunger, Vegetable, Volunteer Organization
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