A part of something big

November 24th, 2020

Meet our Volunteer of the Month, Betsy Vanleit! Betsy has been volunteering with Food Forward since 2016, and before long she trained as both a Pick Leader and Glean Team Leader. In the last few months, Betsy has been “solo” harvesting, helping us get to lots of fruit trees and support our community partners with fresh produce. We’re so thankful for Betsy’s hard work and dedication to making fresh foods accessible to all. 



So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?  
In 2016 I retired from a career as a university professor, and moved to Ojai to be closer to my parents. I felt really fortunate to have time for volunteer work, and I knew that I was particularly interested in food systems and food justice work.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
I really appreciate Food Forward’s emphasis on rescuing produce and assuring that it gets to people who need it! In addition, I love spending time in orchards and at farmers markets.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I love to hike, garden, bake sourdough bread, and cook. I also spend some volunteer time doing habitat restoration work for the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.


Betsy at a harvest in 2017 (back row, third from right).


What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward? 
When I first started volunteering, we did group picks and gleans, and I enjoyed the people I met. Now I do solitary picks, and I enjoy the time with the fruit trees!

How would you describe the volunteer experience at a harvest or a glean?
It gives me joy to know that we are rescuing fruit and produce that would otherwise go to waste. It is also wonderful to help feed those who struggle to access good quality fruit and vegetables.

What was your first volunteer day like?
I was hooked! I met some great people, picked boxes and boxes of oranges, and felt that I had contributed to something really good.



What have you learned from volunteering?
Volunteering is a wonderful way to feel that I am part of something big and important. Even when the world feels crazy or I am having a hard day, picking fruit for Food Forward fills me with a sense of meaning.

Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?
No one moment stands out, but there is always a quiet happiness that comes from the simple act of picking fruit and knowing that others will get to eat.

Any words of wisdom you live by?
I try to find ways to act from a place of kindness and compassion. Volunteering with Food Forward is one of the ways that helps me live that aspiration.


A bounty of oranges picked by Betsy! 

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Agency Spotlight: Sikh Center of Orange County

November 20th, 2020

When the Sikh Center of Orange County (SCOC) saw the impact that COVID-19 was having on the families around their temple, they felt it was their duty to act. They believe that access to healthy food is important, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, and saw that their community was experiencing more food insecurity due to the pandemic and economic downturn. Expanding on the Sikh principles of Seva (selfless service) and Langar (free kitchen), they opened a mobile pantry and started weekly drive-through food distributions at their temple in Santa Ana.


Saanand and his partner Bandana Singh co-lead the Saturday drive-thru and coordinate pickups from our warehouse.


In September, SCOC reached out to Food Forward, hoping to provide supplemental nutritious produce to their community members. Ever since, they have been making weekly Friday pickups of fresh fruits and vegetables from Food Forward’s Pit Stop. Saanand Singh helps run the pantry and works closely with Luis, Senior Manager of Food Forward’s Wholesale Recovery Program, to make sure SCOC is able to get a variety of produce to the families they serve as often as possible. He remarked on the quality of produce they received, saying “It was fantastic—we got to sort through it last night, it was all really, really good stuff!”

With the free fruits and vegetables they receive from Food Forward, SCOC assembles food boxes to give out at their drive-through distributions at the temple. Every Saturday, they serve about 900 families an assortment of pre-packed ingredients for an estimated week’s worth of meals. These services have been an invaluable resource to families in Orange County and are open to everyone, regardless of belief. The mobile pantry alone serves about 1,300 participants a week, and recently, SCOC Food Pantry served its one-millionth meal!


Agency Relations Team members Michele Chase, LaNeisha Hodo, and Pearson King connected SCOC with fresh produce from Food Forward’s Wholesale Recovery Program.

Saanand and Bandana shared their gratitude for our Wholesale Produce Recovery team and Agency Relations Team—specifically Luis Yepiz, Michele Chase, and LaNeisha Hodo, for helping coordinate their donations. Equally grateful to the Sikh Center are the families who come to receive a full box of food from this wonderful organization. Saanand says: “Everyone who’s coming through today is going to be very appreciative. We were able to make about 800 boxes with all the [produce] that you gave us.”

We hope you enjoyed learning about the Sikh Center of Orange County and their work to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to the Santa Ana community!

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How to plant a fruit tree this fall: Tips from Fruitstitute

November 10th, 2020

Are you looking to plant your first fruit trees or grow your home orchard? Now is the perfect time to plant! Our friends at Fruitstitute tell us why to plant in the fall, and the steps you need to correctly plant a healthy fruit tree.  

Fall is fruit tree planting season in Southern California! Why? In fall, temperatures are cooling and days are getting shorter which signals trees to get ready for winter, the slow-growing season for evergreens and dormant season for deciduous trees. To prepare for the winter season when the rate of photosynthesis (i.e. food production) is lowest because days are shortest, trees undergo a flush of root growth in fall so they can store more nutrients and sustain themselves through the dark days of winter.



In Southern California, we can plant trees any time from fall through spring. Our planting season at Fruitstitute is September through May. Trees need time to establish roots to cool themselves down during our summer heat, so it’s never a good idea to plant in the summer months. We say fall is the best time to plant because when we plant a fruit tree in fall, we get the maximum amount of root growth, which produces the maximum amount of shoot growth and, if we’re lucky, fruit growth, in the spring and summer—the active growing season.

CAUTION! Planting a tree is serious business. Here are a few things you need to know to do it right.



1) The right tree for the right place is 50% of the equation for success.
Do some research on the tree you want to plant. Is it heat-sensitive? How much space does it need? Does it like a lot of water, like a mango tree, or less water, like a citrus or pomegranate tree? What’s your soil like? Is there enough sunlight? Is there enough permeable soil surface for roots?

If you want your tree to grow fruit, make sure there’s enough exposed soil in the root zone (the area under the canopy) for now and also for the future as the tree grows. Absorbent roots, those responsible for taking water and nutrients from the soil, will not grow under gravel, decomposed granite (DG), concrete, or another hardscape. Grass and any other vigorous ground cover will steal nutrients from those absorbent roots, so you need to keep root zones clear if you want that nutrition in your fruit. The rootzone should be mulched with woody mulch at all times. The best thing to feed a tree is a tree!



2) Dig the perfect hole.
Dig your planting hole so it’s twice as wide as the root ball and as deep as the root flare. We like to say: “Flare in the Air.” Any arborist will tell you how much it drives them crazy to see trees planted too deep. This is way too common even among industry professionals, including nurseries and landscapers. Proper planting depth is at the root flare or root crown, where the trunk tapers out and the first structural roots (the fatter, thicker, woodier, roots) are growing. Planting too deep stunts absorbent root growth, so your tree will be malnourished for a lifetime. In severe cases, planting too deep can kill a tree.

After planting, apply 2″ thick of woody mulch (+ compost if you have) in the rootzone, the area under the canopy, and slightly beyond.



3) Keep it clean and simple.
Don’t add any soil amendments or non-native soil to the planting hole! Adding ‘stuff’ to the planting holes is another all too common misconception of tree planting. The only thing that goes in the planting hole is the tree, the soil it came in and the native soil it’s about to live in. You can always amend this soil from the top down with compost and woody mulch.


We hope these tips help you plant fruit trees with confidence and success! For more fruit tree care resources, check out our other blog posts. And, for expert advice with planting or other fruit tree questions, contact Fruitstitute!

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Passing along the value of volunteerism

October 30th, 2020

Meet our Volunteer of the Month, Matt Sanderson, who has been volunteering with Food Forward since December 2019. Matt finished his Pick Leader training in January 2020 and made a huge impact in very little time! In only 10 months Matt has led over 25 gleaning events, including leading 7 harvests alone in May! He brings his passion for food justice and policy to each harvest event and we’re grateful for his support, creativity, and hard work. Matt has been an amazing addition to the team and we couldn’t be more grateful to have him in our fruity family. Thank you Matt!

Matt, his father Ian, and girlfriend Kibby, visited Sedona, AZ last December.

So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?
It began with an email to the LA Food Policy Council’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Working Group last December. They sent a group email to recap the past month’s meeting, and in the announcements section was a call out to help Food Forward. I signed up to glean at my local farmer’s market in Burbank and from there, I was quickly introduced to the Backyard Harvest Program.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
I like seeing a portion of the fruit growing on all these trees in the region actually get redistributed to organizations that directly help people who need it, instead of seeing it rot and get wasted. Between farmer’s market gleans and fruit harvests, Food Forward delivers on a simple promise to make the best use of what’s around us locally to help others. Regardless if you live in a state like California with the climate and access to this abundance of fresh produce, I believe every single global community needs a Food Forward model operating to fill a void of food waste.



What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I walk, ride my bike, go for hikes and cruise these SoCal roads, man! I also cook a lot and subconsciously, what led me to finding Food Forward was actually cooking. I had an epiphany in 2019 as my cooking prowess grew at home. I wanted my career to align more with my passion deep down for cooking and all things food. It led me to reaching out to the LA Food Policy Council. I believe wholeheartedly in food justice, especially with how you act at home—cooking a variety of local, healthy food, composting, and taking an interest in gardening.

I like exploring, even if it’s an urban adventure in LA. I camp when I can and I used to camp more. I traveled a fair amount in recent years but before the pandemic I’ve had to buckle down and budget a bit more. I’ve been active my whole life based on my upbringing, so I still fall back into my sports, playing volleyball, baseball, softball, basketball, tennis. I’m also trying to get back into drawing and poetry.

I used to see a lot of concerts and I keep a lot of music on me. I’m also very interested in vlogging and blogging about my hobbies and passions and need to do it more. I’m a cinephile and love finding classic films I’ve never watched.

Now during the pandemic, I cook even more. Reading more and listening to audiobooks are slowly creeping up my list, too. And don’t forget the importance of a good nap. Wow, okay, this was too much info!

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?
Well, it used to be connecting with new people on group picks. However, I also really like solo picks and evolving my strategy and approach to picking a tree when I arrive. I think of it like a video game. Is that weird?

Also, I like gawking at the landscape design of people’s yards. Some homeowners really take pride!


Matt started volunteering with us right before the pandemic, and has since become an avid solo harvester. 

How would you describe the volunteer experience at a harvest?
Well, that was only 1.5 months for me before the pandemic started, but before becoming a pick leader, I liked learning from experienced pick leaders and their approach to a successful harvest. If it’s a big harvest you get a lot of freedom to tackle your own tree sometimes, and it’s satisfying to fill a box. It’s a very easy, laid back 1.5-2 hours before it’s over, so it’s worth speaking up early and often.

What was your first volunteer day like?
If I remember it correctly, it was in Van Nuys near the airport. The homeowners were outside with the group chatting us up. I distinctly remember this because it was the only time I’ve asked to use the homeowner’s bathroom, and it was the only time I used the new pickers Food Forward acquired with the lever to chop the fruit from the branch. It was a bit cumbersome to learn how to use, but I did get it down. Now I just use a standard picker.

What have you learned from volunteering?
Giving your time is always worth it because you’re helping others. I believe that you’re hopefully passing along the value of volunteerism to at least one other person who will start offering their time in some way, and then they pass that along to someone else.


Matt biking around downtown Sacramento near the state capitol. 

Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?
For my Food Forward experience during most of the pandemic, I can’t reference a specific powerful moment yet. Volunteering in general, sure, and covering community events over the years as a journalist and editor based on the personal stories people have told me.

There was one day in Echo Park where the home was elevated from the street, on the first 95+ degree day of the year. The homeowners had a giant grapefruit tree where the top section was only reachable by their upper floor balcony. I’ve never seen a grapefruit tree this big before or since this property. When fruit fell, it would roll along the pitch of the property all the way down the steps to street level, banging against the front gate. I would walk down to retrieve the fruit to store back in the boxes. It was the biggest yield I’ve had picking, and it was alone, all thanks to the homeowners getting some bags of grapefruits. And I loaded and delivered them for my first delivery, which was in Westlake/Koreatown, instead of the agency coming to the property to pick-up. This, along with a few other picks out of the bunch I’ve done this year, had  quite a uniqueness to them.

At another property I picked near my home in Burbank, the homeowner told me to watch out for a bird’s nest. She wasn’t kidding. I had to avoid a section of this tree simply for the fact the parent bird was going into protective/potential dive bomber mode. It would chirp loudly and leave the nest to perch on a branch closer to me, and stare at me, or fly above me to a powerline nearby, at a perfect angle close enough to be out of my periphery but making its presence known! Anyway, I picked enough grapefruits and stayed out of that section of the tree, out of respect.

And in September, I picked a homeowner’s tree that’s been a partnering property for several years. It was apparent soon upon arrival that her orange tree was sick. The fruit was still okay, even with the outer peels uncharacteristically dirty. There were sections where leaves were completely covered in white dots on the underside, and, even more alarming, large black spiders with red would descend quickly from cobwebby areas. There were quite a few.

Aside from the homeowner and I wearing our masks due to the pandemic, she was covered head to toe with gloves, knowing about the spiders before the pick. I advised her to have a specialist look at it, and handed her our pamphlet on the invasive citrus bug. She emailed me later that day thanking for the advice and learned her tree had mites and was going to get treated.

Also, Orcutt Ranch in West Hills is a dream orchard to pick. There were plenty of ants here that I had to keep picking off…but man, those were the best tasting oranges I’ve EVER had.

And I’ve met a variety of people who were interesting to talk to, or were retired and had some wisdom or career advice to lend.


Matt’s girlfriend Kibby often joins him at harvests, like this one at Orcutt Ranch.

Any words of wisdom you live by?
Be true to yourself. Nature is always the cure for the soul. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.


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Agency Spotlight: Ruben Castro Charities

October 27th, 2020

This month, we’re highlighting our partner Ruben Castro Charities, a community-based organization committed to eliminating generational poverty.

The organization is named in the honor of Ruben Castro, a local businessman, Moorpark community leader, and the first Latino to serve on the Moorpark Unified School District Board. Ruben Castro Charities carries on his legacy to serve the Moorpark community. In 2015, the organization stepped in to re-open the Moorpark College Pantry after it closed down. This pantry was transformed into the “Grab and Go Groceries” site at Moorpark College, and is now a reliable source of nutrition for students and the larger community. Everyone is welcomed to pick up the fresh foods and pantry staples available. In addition to food distributions, Ruben Castro Charities also awards scholarships and helps coordinate social services.


Alejandro Castro, a very active board member at Ruben Castro Charities, and Dominique Derse, Food Foward’s Agency Relations and Farmers Market Recovery Program Coordinator, loading up fruits and veggies.

Each week, Ruben Castro Charities picks up produce rescued by Food Forward’s Wholesale Produce Recovery program at the Simi Valley Produce Pick-Up. In addition, they regularly pick up fruits and veggies from local Backyard Harvest events, citrus packing house donors, and the Produce Pit Stop. Last week alone, they distributed more than 2,000 pounds of produce recovered by Food Forward to the Moorpark community! Food Forward’s partnership with Ruben Castro Charities dates back to 2016, and since then they have become one of our most reliable and dynamic partners.


Alejandro Castro picks up weekly loads of produce from the Simi at the Garden Produce Pick-up. 

Alejandro Castro is a board member and Ruben Castro’s grandson. Deeply involved in the organization, he acts as the main coordinator for Food Forward’s produce for their food distributions. Castro has taken on even more work recently, as he’s seen a huge increase in Grab & Go Groceries participants and the need for food assistance in Moorpark. “During the pandemic, we have doubled the number of families we serve each week,” says Castro.

The organization has met the rising food insecurity in the community by doubling food distributions to twice a week, once on Tuesdays and again on Saturdays. They currently serve about 500 families a week from all over the county with a drive-through pantry model. Throughout the pandemic, Ruben Castro Charities has been an important resource to the community, helping to inform families about options for testing and emergency services.


Volunteers from Ruben Castro Charities finishing up prep before the Tuesday “Grab & Go Groceries” drive-through.

We’re grateful to support the food relief efforts of Ruben Castro Charities, and hope you enjoyed learning more about this community partner!

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Agency Spotlight: SBCC Thrive

October 6th, 2020

Today, we’re spotlighting SBCC Thrive LA, an organization that has empowered Angelenos to make positive change in their community for the past 47 years.

Founded in 1973, SBCC (short for Strength Based Community Change) is built on the idea that every person has something unique they can contribute to help build a more equal and just society. Among SBCC Thrive’s initiatives are their children’s education program, economic initiatives program, and community organizing work.


SBCC Thrive creates access to healthy foods through community gardens and free distributions of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

SBCC Thrive works throughout LA County and has two locations in Watts and Wilmington, where it can be difficult to find fresh produce, and fruits and vegetables are often sold at an unaffordable price range. To support residents who wanted to grow their own food, SBCC developed a robust gardening and composting program. They also began twice-monthly food distributions at the iHeart Wilmington Community Garden, where they felt it was important to provide more than just canned foods. So, Octavio Ramirez, a certified Master Gardener and SBCC’s Director of Community Gardens, reached out to Food Forward in 2019. SBCC soon began picking up fresh fruits and vegetables gleaned from the Encino Farmers Market.


Octavio Ramirez, SBCC’s Director of Community Gardens, picks up pallets of fruits and vegetables at the Produce Pit Stop for a community distribution. 

Food Forward maintains a high standard for the quality of produce that is donated to our partners, which means that sometimes we can’t donate certain fruits or veggies. Instead of throwing this produce away, Food Forward works with local composters to prevent it from ending up in a landfill—including SBCC Thrive, who turn our inedible fruits and veggies into rich compost for their community gardens.

Octavio says that SBCC’s partnership with Food Forward is beneficial “Not only because we get produce for our participants, but also because [previously] I didn’t have enough green material for the amount of compost I wanted to make. It’s the perfect mutually beneficial relationship.”


Our partnership with SBCC Thrive also includes composting—they help us recycle any food we can’t donate, and we help them create rich soil for their gardens! 

Since the pandemic, SBCC has been quick to shift much of their programming to be virtual. Every day they live-stream a fitness or yoga class, and they have continued their preschool education classes through Facebook Live. SBCC also host regular Know Your Rights workshops, and have even hosted online video game tournaments. They have also adpated in-person programs like their community gardens to be safe. A new container gardening challenge was started and a companion workshop series, made by Octavio, is on Youtube. We’re incredibly proud to partner with this innovative organization during a particularly challenging time!

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On Sundays, this dynamic duo gets to work

September 30th, 2020

This month we’re featuring two Volunteers of the Month – Nick Doctors and Patrick McPhilamy. Nick and Patrick have both gleaned all but four Sundays since we started back up at Encino in June—a total of thirteen gleans, plus they’re signed up for all four in October already! They both led at different markets pre-COVID but trained at this market in order to help us out. Nick is a relatively new Glean Team Leader who really hit the ground running with us! After he became a Glean Team Leader, he’d still sign up for markets as a general volunteer if someone else was leading. Patrick has been with us for 3 years as both a Glean Team Leader and Community Ambassador. Pre-COVID, he would drive all the way from the Northwest San Fernando Valley to lead at Alhambra and/or Pasadena twice a month! It’s been incredibly helpful to have them at nearly every glean, and they’ve helped show a lot of our other Glean Team Leaders the ropes. Thank you, Nick and Patrick! 

Nick (left) and Patrick (right) pose with the bounty of recovered produce after a recent glean at the Encino Farmers Market! 


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

Nick: As a frequent visitor to the Calabasas farmer’s market, I was always intrigued by the mysterious group walking around with a big cart and boxes. When I later found out what Food Forward did, I knew I wanted to get involved.

Patrick: I started as a volunteer, gleaning at the Alhambra Farmers Market on Sundays, and later became more active as a Glean Team Leader and an Ambassador for Food Forward.
What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?

Nick: I’m a big advocate for people to live healthy lives, and Food Forward delivers high quality, healthy produce to various communities! Plus, this benefits the vendors so it’s a win for everybody involved.

Patrick: I had been working with international and national organizations with well-established hunger-relief programs prior to volunteering with Food Forward. However, I wanted to become actively involved with an organization having a direct, tangible, and local impact on hunger relief. This drew me to Food Forward. Its mission to connect abundance with scarcity through farmers markets and other gleans by providing whole, fresh, and nutritious produce to individuals in the local community experiencing food scarcity resonated with me, resulting in my affiliation with Food Forward.


Prior to the pandemic, Patrick (far left) often led gleans at the Alhambra Farmers Market. 


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

Nick: I currently work in a psychiatric office providing therapy for individuals dealing with depression, and in a few months I will be applying to medical school. In the meantime, I also enjoy outdoor activities, such as biking, and watching my fantasy football team underperform yet again.

Patrick: I work in the legal services space as a lawyer, mediator, and arbitrator when I am not volunteering with Food Forward.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward? 

Nick: I love the interaction I get to have with vendors, volunteers, and everyone in between while providing a bridge that connects farmers 200+ miles away with those in need.

Patrick: For me, the favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward is working with other volunteers, farmer-donors, and hunger relief agencies to provide healthy, fresh produce to people in need in the local community.


Nick has been a superstar Glean Team Leader during the pandemic, helping us recover tons of fruits and veggies for local hunger relief organizations.  


How would you describe the volunteer experience at a market?

Nick: Engaging, fun, and rewarding.

Patrick: The time passes very quickly during the glean while we rescue produce from farmers who generously donate surplus fruit and vegetables to address food insecurity locally.
What was your first volunteer day gleaning together like?

Nick: Since we were both relatively new to the Encino market and the COVID protocols, we immediately gelled, and since then have worked many gleans as a power duo. It’s always encouraging to see Patrick’s name under the participants so I know I’ve got another person I can count on!

What was your first volunteer day like?

Patrick: On my first glean, I had the pleasure of training with Pearson King (Food Forward’s Agency Relations Manager). It was an excellent experience, inspiring me to continue with Food Forward.


Patrick admires an impressive number of boxes, all filled with nutritious fruits and veggies ready to be picked up by hunger relief organizations. 

What have you learned from volunteering?

Nick: To work together as a team toward the common goal of helping others and the value that seemingly small impacts have when compiled over time.

Patrick: It gave me the opportunity to become actively engaged in a hunger relief program that has a demonstrable, positive impact on the local community. From that experience, I learned more about the importance of service, leadership, teamwork, and community, fostering a feeling of interdependence and collaboration with other volunteers, farmers, hunger relief agencies, and the local community.

Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment that you’ve experienced (separate or together) that you’d like to share?

Nick: We have volunteers with physical aches and pains, car troubles, and some who are recruited to help out with less than 24 hours notice. Despite this, everyone makes the effort every week to show up and volunteer. This shows how strongly we value the efforts of Food Forward and how each of us can contribute to the mission of providing food for insecure and food marginalized communities.

Patrick: I have enjoyed working with Nick. He’s very dedicated and professional. It has been a pleasure to serve with him in connection with Food Forward’s important mission.


Nick (right) poses with a friend (pre-pandemic.)


Any words of wisdom you live by?

Nick: Push yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you!

Patrick: Service and leadership are inextricably related. Volunteering provides an opportunity to shift the focus from self to others, from the “me” to the “we.” Just imagine what an improvement it would make in the world and in the lives of other people if nearly everyone were to lend a helping hand to others, by volunteering their time, at least once a week, if not more frequently.

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Doing good for others in his spare time

August 28th, 2020

Meet our Ventura County Volunteer of the Quarter, and Volunteer of the Month, Eric S! Eric is a Volunteer Support Driver in Ventura County, and helps us keep everything running smoothly. Eric restocks our storage for market gleans and backyard picks and transports produce to hunger relief agencies that do not have the capacity to pick-up, providing vital support to those organizations. He’s been such a huge help and we’re lucky to have him on the team. 


So tell me, what drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
I feel very strongly about community support and mutual aid, and that’s what drove me to seek out an organization like Food Forward.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I have a very demanding job so I don’t get a whole lot of free time. I get out on my mountain bike for exercise, and teach scuba diving and try to find time to keep up with biological research (my personal calling) when I can.



What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?
I’m happy to be able to do something to help support the community.

How would you describe the volunteer experience as a Volunteer Support Driver?
Food Forward provides a perfect opportunity to do some good for others with what time I have left to give.

Anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you so much for the work you do and for giving me the opportunity to be a small part of it!



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The rising tide brings in all ships

July 24th, 2020

Nikole and her husband, Jake, started volunteering with Food Forward in early 2020. Shortly after the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, Nikole finished her Pick Leader training and has since become one of our most active Pick Leaders. Since early April, Nikole and Jake have led 9 harvest events and donated more than 1,900 lbs of fruit to local hunger relief organizations! They are hard-working, committed to food justice, and an awesome picking team. We are grateful for their support and happy to have them on our team! 


So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?  
We discovered Food Forward at an information booth at the Van Nuys Arbor Day celebration at the Van Nuys recreation center, we were looking for ways to get more involved in our community and to learn about sustainability efforts in our neighborhood. Food Forward was a perfect fit for us on both accounts.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
We love that Food Forward meets a need in the community by getting fresh, healthy produce for those who don’t normally have access—while at the same time, fighting food waste!

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
Jake is a professional musician, artist, and producer (@jakeknoxmusic) and Nikole is a music supervisor for TV and Film as well as a musician and artist (@JoyIncentive).



What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward? 
We love having a reason to be outside for an hour or two and getting a close look at how fruit grows and where our fruit comes from. Though community interaction is somewhat limited during the pandemic, we still love the feeling of connecting with a neighbor who is letting you into their space, to pick their food to feed another member of the community that needs it. This symbiosis among three distinct groups in the community is invaluable.

How would you describe the volunteer experience at a harvest?
This is the most fulfilling volunteer experience that either of us have ever had. Not only does it feel good to get out into the community and do some good, but at the end of the day you have a quantifiable accomplishment, for example we’ve only been doing solo harvests for a few months and already the two of us have saved over 1,800 lbs of produce from the landfill and donated it to the food insecure—nothing can beat that feeling.

What was your first volunteer day at a harvest like?
Our first harvest was at a private residence with about 8 fruit trees and around 10 volunteers. We loved everyone we met that day and were able to take a few oranges and grapefruits that couldn’t be donated home with us. We loved it so much that we signed up to train and become harvest leaders that night.



What have you learned from volunteering?
Lots of fun fruit facts! Citrus doesn’t continue to ripen off the tree – so don’t pick green fruit. Grapefruit grows in clusters like grapes, which is how it got its name. Lemons are way easier to pick than Kumquats. Who knew?!

Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?
We are always inspired by the enthusiasm of the people we meet, everyone is always so excited to be donating their fruit!

Any words of wisdom you live by?
We like to think that the rising tide brings in all the ships, when you’re doing your best you’re empowering those around you to do the same. Also – keep washing your hands and don’t touch your face!

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No one goes hungry

June 30th, 2020

Meet our Volunteer of the Month, Gary Sarcione! Gary is a dedicated Glean Team Leader at the Ventura Saturday Farmers Market. He’s been volunteering several times a month since 2016 and has been a huge help at the market! Read more about Gary and what inspires him to volunteer below. 


Gary moved to Ventura County four years ago and quickly got involved with Food Forward and began giving back to his community!

So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?
My wife Dina and I had just moved to the Ventura area four years ago. While I looked for a job I needed something to make me feel productive in between searching and job interviews, so I looked around for a volunteer opportunity. I found Food Forward online and it seemed like something I’d enjoy doing while giving back at the same time.

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
I think how well it was organized and that the food went so quickly from the farmers to those in need. Kind of an instant gratification thing, I guess!

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I’ve just recently started a new career in film and electronic media, so I love being in production and practicing photography. I also enjoy spending time with my wife Dina and our cat Bast. Otherwise, I love exploring SoCal on my motorcycle.


Gary enjoys exploring Southern California on his motorcycle.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?
There’s a special feeling I get working the Ventura Farmers Market on a Saturday, like I’m a part of something bigger than myself and I’m just showing up to do my part. It’s very cool. I also like talking with the farmers. They are amazing people and I’m glad I’ve gotten to be around them.

How would you describe the volunteer experience at a farmers market glean?
It’s very team-oriented and easy going. You get to help save food from being wasted and get it in the hands of those in need in an uncomplicated way all while being outdoors and engaging with others. And it’s not a huge commitment so I regularly recommend it to people looking for an easy and fun way to volunteer.

What was your first volunteer day at a market like?
Oh, it was so much more than I expected. I remember it was just myself and the Ventura County Branch Manager Ally leading. I remember how nice she and the vendors were and how good it felt getting involved. Plus I was still very new to the area, so I went home feeling that I had made my first friend in California and for the first time felt a part of the community. It was a good day!


Gary regularly leads produce recovery at the Ventura Saturday Farmers Market.

What have you learned from volunteering?
That I always get back from it more than I put into it. Always.

Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?
One memory that sticks out is approaching one of the farm stands and asking if they needed a box that day.  It was pretty obvious they didn’t but the farmer grabbed the box from me and just started filling it. As he handed it back to me he said “no one goes hungry.” It was a nice moment but I have to say, the overall generosity of the vendors we work with is incredible and inspiring.

Any words of wisdom you live by?
The secret of getting ahead is getting started.


Gary’s motorcycle outfitted with some Food Forward flair!

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