Update: The Produce Pit Stop opens June 20!
Rick Nahmias shares his reflections on the road to the Produce Pit Stop, from receiving our first government grant to fund the project, to signing a lease after a long search for the right space, to the opening next week!
The Produce Pit Stop’s colorful entryway, with signpainting by the talented Remy Chwae (@sign_gal)
It’s amazing what a few months of juice, sweat, and elbow grease can do for a beautiful but dusty 1920’s warehouse…
In March of 2018, we got word that Food Forward had been awarded a major grant from CalRecycle to supply the anchor funding needed to open a cross-docking warehouse with large-scale refrigeration, which would enable us to build out the capacity of our Wholesale Recovery Program. From nearly day one, the “baby” of Food Forward’s three produce recovery programs had been struggling under the weight of its own success, sadly turning away many pallets of beautiful fresh produce donations every month. With our trucks already full of donations, and without a refrigerated space to temporarily store them while we coordinated hand-offs with the hundreds of agencies that we serve, these pallets were destined for the dumpster.
Food Forward’s expanded capacity due to the Pit Stop will enable us to rescue more perfectly good food from the Wholesale Market.
We toasted the CalRecycle award (which was also our biggest single gift ever), then took a deep collective breath and buckled down to an ambitious work plan, while simultaneously raising the remaining funds needed to make the warehouse a reality. The first step was setting off on a massive real estate hunt. How hard could it be to find a 5-10,000 square foot warehouse in or near the Produce District of DTLA? VERY hard, it’d turn out. Eight months and almost 80 properties later, we found and kissed the frog that became Food Forward’s Produce Pit Stop: a massive, mothballed 1920’s Air Force storage facility with 30-foot wooden bow & truss ceilings. The Produce Pit Stop is located on The Salvation Army’s Bell Shelter campus, an oasis of state-of-the-art dignified social services in an otherwise nondescript industrial stretch of South East LA (straddling the Bell/Huntington Park/Vernon area.) We signed the lease on January 17 of this year—our tenth anniversary—and renovations began.
Learn more about the Produce Pit Stop here.
A panorama shows the scale of the 6,000 square foot warehouse, complete with new offices for the Wholesale team.
We traded proximity to the produce market (though it’s still only 15 minutes away) for proximity to a number of our high-impact receiving agencies and communities of need. The Pit Stop is within the center of the Salvation Army’s SoCal hub of activity—the Bell Shelter is the largest homeless shelter west of the Mississippi and feeds 500+ people daily. Paired with neighbors Grow Good Farm, a regenerative urban farm that provides produce and employment training for Bell Shelter residents, we saw an immediate synergy.
From February until this week, just days before cutting the ribbon to the facility, walls have been moved, electrical systems upgraded, loading docks updated, work flows re-architected, and a refrigerator bigger than my home was installed. And while the Produce Pit Stop is indeed a cross-docking depot with the modern conveniences we’ve existed without for our entire first decade, we will not be abandoning the “just-in-time” rescue operations we have become nationally known for. The refrigerator will allow us to store over 80 pallets (or approximately 125,000 pounds) of produce at any given time, which will impact our logistics operations while still allowing us to remain nimble and serve small, medium and large agencies across the entire region—and beyond. No matter how you look at it, Food Forward’s Produce Pit Stop represents a whole new chapter for us, for healthy food recovery in Southern California, and for the two million food insecure individuals who have come to rely on our free, fresh produce.
Food Forward’s Technology & Engagement Manager, Joe, stands in the vast refrigerator!
After five months of renovations, we are now ready to roll out full-scale operations at the Pit Stop and expect the facility to boost our Wholesale Recovery Program’s overall donations by 50% over the next two years. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of produce have already already flown through the space in tests and dry runs, and there are still a few loose ends to tie up. More details and blog posts will follow as the beast gets up to speed, but our next set of tasks is getting ready for the big unveiling on June 20th, when community partners and civic leaders join us for a ribbon cutting. As usual, all hands are on deck—but we wouldn’t have it any other way!