Food Forward Blog
A Morning Of Food Recovery

Food Forward’s Social Media Coordinator and Super SUPER Volunteer, Devyn, visited the Wholesale Produce Market recently to see first hand how Food Forward is able to recover millions of pounds of fresh produce from the market per year. Read on for a wonderful account of food recovery on a huge scale and learn just how early the Wholesale Recovery Program staff has to get up in order to save tens of thousands of pounds of produce before 10 am!


Chapter 1: Preface

So, what’s the skinny on Food Forward’s Wholesale Recovery Program? Well, simply put, it’s just another one of our incredible programs that results in sizable donations of fresh fruits and vegetables delivered for the immediate satisfaction of people in need.

WRP is a program dominated by our two phenomenal Wholesale Recovery Program staff members, Luis and Felipe. Luis is also our wholesale program manager. These two are up before the crack of dawn (literally, 2:30am) Monday-Friday so that they can be at the market to collect donations of produce that may not look perfect, but are most definitely delicious. Similar to Backyard Harvest and Farmers Market Recovery, all donations go directly to local hunger relief agencies.

An average day at the wholesale market will yield 2-4 loads of fruits and veggies – approximately 35,000-70,000 pounds for the food insecure. We have collected a total of 10.5 million pounds of produce since its inception.

Join me, along with Food Forward Volunteer Coordinator, Joe Bobman, as we shadow Luis on one of his workdays, and get ready to be blown away.



Chapter 2: Getting Acquainted with the Market

First and foremost, major props to Luis and Felipe for simply being able to get up AND FUNCTION at 2:30 am on a regular basis – it’s not easy. Even with coffee, the struggle was definitely real. Fortunately, they drive the big truck and I don’t.

The day really began at 4:30am, when Joe and I met Luis at the truck yard in Montebello where our beautiful truck lives – about 20 minutes from the market.


We arrived at the market around 5am, and I have to tell you – it looked nothing like what I had imagined. I had pictured flea-market type of arrangement with one huge warehouse lined with vendors, and lots of people hectically scurrying around and haggling for the best deals. Not the case! The market is set up as five ‘islands,’ with various vendors occupying different blocks of each island. The outside of the island is a loading dock, where trucks can pull up and load their purchases (or, in our case, donations). Venture inward and you’ll find a refrigerated storage area packed with crates upon crates of produce – on shelves, lining the walls, stacked on top of each other, you get the idea. Go in a little deeper and you’ll come out onto a runway of sorts, lined with displays of fresh produce.


It’s more food than I’ve ever seen in my life, and certainly some of the most beautiful. Some displays were arranged by type, so a cluster of apples here, a shelf of peppers there. Others were arranged like rainbows, with bright reds, yellows, and oranges, and deep greens. I was slightly blue when I didn’t see any blue, but I got over it.


Despite the early hour, the market was alive. Given that the market actually opened at midnight, the vendors were already almost halfway through their day – even still, the sun hadn’t risen yet. Luis seemed to know everybody, and greeted every person he saw with a bellowing hello – some even got a review or two from one of his favorite operas. Intense levels of chatter and scurrying of forklifts dashing around the island; it was by some miracle that I wasn’t impaled.

The smells were so distinctive, with different scents hitting me out of nowhere. A whiff of basil, the acidic scent of citrus, the sweet smell of melon, and the bitterness of leafy greens also made our acquaintance at one point or another.


Chapter 3: Donations

For the first hour or so, we secured donations: we visited Luis’ vendor friends, inspected the produce that they’d be willing to donate, and organized the pickup if we decided to take it. And while there were definitely watermelons that were more water than melon and a few moldy grapes, for the most part, the fruit was completely passable. No, better than passable, actually really good.


Ok, maybe not this one, but I promise, if I closed my eyes, I’d never know it wasn’t perfect.
Upon inspecting a crate of fruit, Luis would often cut into a sample to taste it and make sure it was up to Food Forward standards.


It’s ironic to think that the visual supermarket standard we are so accustomed to judging our produce on does not always accurately represent quality. For example, we got an entire palate (about 1,000 pounds) of cucumbers that were being thrown away because the ends of them were slightly bowed and squishy – just the ends! The rest of the vegetables were perfect, but because of that one minor – and from what we understood, common – flaw, vendors were unable to sell them. Into the trash they went. Had we gotten there in time, we would’ve been more than happy make all of them ours… Ah well, onward!



Chapter 4: Drop-Offs


So you know, our truck fits up to ten pallets of food, or between 10 and 15 thousand pounds. Once we reach capacity, we have to drop off that load at a receiving agency, and then go back to the market with an empty truck to fill up again.

On the day that Joe and I went, we received two loads of donations; one load went to Heart of Compassion and the other went to the Dream Center.


Heart of Compassion is an awesome receiving agency and a distributor; they have a huge food pantry and seven trucks like ours. Most of the produce was stored in huge bins or in stacked crates, while the rest was packaged into goodie bags of sorts, ready for pickup. The bags were organized by content, so one bin of bags might contain produce, one might contain household items like soap or kitchen spray, one might contain grains like bread or pasta, another might contain beverages, and so on. A family that Heart of Compassion serves will attend a prayer service, and then receive one of each of the bags to be taken home. I was floored by the efficacy of their system, and by how many needs they were able to accommodate. They go well beyond feeding families, and work to assist them in their daily lives. It was heartwarming.

Reason #2 that Heart of Compassion rocks: hello, compost! To keep anything from going to waste, Heart of Compassion started three compost piles in their parking lot. They alternate layers of mulch with rotten produce, and have staff members turn the piles every 4-8 days; one pile is turned every 4 days, the second every 6, and the third every 8. They donate the compost as fertilizers to local farms, so that “bad” produce doesn’t go to waste, but instead can be used to cultivate “good” produce. So far, they’ve had great success!


After dropping off at Heart of Compassion and then filling up a second load, we headed over to the Dream Center in Los Angeles, a rehabilitation facility that serves over 80,000 individuals and families each month.

First off, the place was beautiful. The Dream Center used to be a hospital that was built in 1926, but now houses all the patients, staff, and treatment centers. It has an extraordinary view of the Hollywood Hills, complete with the Hollywood Sign to the west.


We were greeted by volunteers, residents of the facility and Dream Center staff. The pantry  buzzed with activity – everyone had a job to do. There were people unloading donations, people sorting them, and of course, more forklifts – and again, I avoided being impaled. There was a feeling that our donations were doing far more than simply feeding people. We met volunteers from an outside organization who were lending a hand by organizing and serving the produce, and residents eager to help us help them; we entered a community of people supporting others who had fallen on hard times, and Food Forward contributes to bringing that community together. It was inspirational.


Chapter 5: It was a phenomenal experience

The day ended around 12:30p. Having been up and active since 2:30a, I was completely exhausted, and the thought of having to drive an hour home and then endure a 2-hour swim practice made my stomach hurt. But once I rested enough to be able to stand up straight again, one thought immediately came into my mind: I just had one of the most extraordinary days of my life.

Leaving the wholesale market, I was humbled not only by the magnitude of the donations we delivered, but also by the enormous amount of produce we were forced to turn away. It was extremely disheartening at first; coming face-to-face with just how much food goes to waste every day made the mission to end food waste look more insuperable than it ever had. That was my glass-half-empty moment.

But then my glass became half-full as I began to appreciate how much weight in produce we were able to alleviate from the trash bins. After working with Food Forward for just over a year, big numbers aren’t as impressive to me. I can talk about collecting or harvesting 300 or 5,000 pounds of produce like it’s nothing, but the reality is, that’s a lot of fruit. 30,000-35,000 pounds – that’s a lot of fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste but, because of the work Wholesale Market Recovery does every day, not a pound is actually wasted.

I never could have imagined the gratitude I would feel for such an experience. At seventeen, I feel so honored and privileged to have entered a world of doers, givers, and truly, the most generous people I’ve ever. Thanks, Food Forward, for facilitating the growth of the most incredible family!

Read More: Posted in Community Action, Food, Uncategorized, Urban Hunger
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What Is Gleaning?

TheGleanersThe Gleaners by Jean-François Millet, 1857

Glean:(‘glēn) verb

1) to gather or collect (something) in a gradual way
2) to search (something) carefully
3) to gather grain or other material that is left after the main crop has been gathered

Ancient History

Gleaning has been an important form of social welfare for well over 2,000 years. The Old Testament of The Bible commanded Hebrew farmers to leave a portion of their crops un-harvested and allow poor neighbors and strangers to come onto their land to pick what was left for themselves and their families. In England and France, the government actually protected the rights of rural poor to glean leftover crops from nearby farms. Picking leftover crops for the local community was an essential part of farm life and the harvest process for hundreds of years, until new private property laws and farming technology began to limit gleaners’ rights. It was common to see people out in fields picking leftover crops until after the end of World War II.

Recent History

In 1987 the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Hunger held a hearing to raise awareness of and support for gleaning organizations across the United States. Nine years later President Clinton signed the “Good Samaritan Act,” which encourages individuals and organizations to donate excess food instead of throwing it away by protecting donors from liability on any food donation made in good faith. Now there are gleaning organizations across the country, and over 20 organizations in California alone! The Society of St. Andrew, which has been gleaning in the United States since 1983, has distributed food in every state except Alaska and Hawaii and has recovered over 700 million pounds. Gleaning organizations today – predominantly faith-based and non-profit organizations – recover food from farms, restaurants, grocery stores, wholesale markets, Farmers Markets and backyards.

Future of Gleaning

Sadly, we need gleaning programs more than ever right now. A recent report estimated that as much as 40% of the food that we produce is never eaten. At the same time, there are 49 million people in the United States who do not have enough money to cover their basic food needs. More organizations across the United States are beginning to look at food-waste recovery as one of the most efficient ways to address both problems at once, and several have come up with exciting new ideas. Non-profit and for-profit organizations have begun using social media and the Internet to connect abundance with need, and there are food-waste recovery Apps in development in San Francisco, Boston, and Southern California. Organizations like Food Forward are finding new ways to glean, but the idea is still the same: Harvest Food, Fight Hunger, Build Community.

By Joe Bobman, Food Forward Volunteer Coordinator

JoeGleaningGleaning at McGrath Family Farm

Sources and Further Reading

Liana Vardi, “Construing the Harvest.”

Peter King, “Gleaners, Farmers, and the Failure of Legal Sanctions in England 1750-1850.”

Stephen Hussey, “The Last Survivor of an Ancient Race.”

Sandrine Badino, “Understanding Gleaning.”

Gleaning groups across North America

Read More: Posted in Community Action, Food Education, Urban Fruit Gleaning, Volunteer Organization
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Food Forward Wins Two Philanthropitch International Awards

FoodForwardPhilathropitch2015SVP Member and Food Forward Board Member, Scott Jarus, and Food Forward Founder / Executive Director, Rick Nahmias, at Philanthropitch International

On September 10, 2015 the inaugural Philanthropitch International, a pitch competition for social innovators, took place in Austin, Texas. With just three minutes to pitch, each of ten competing organizations from the Social Venture Partners network across the U.S. and Canada had to make its case quickly and impactfully before an influential audience and a distinguished group of judges.

That’s just what Rick Nahmias, Founder and Executive Director of the Los Angeles-based non-profit organization Food Forward, did. And he brought home $12,500 in award money to support Food Forward’s mission to harvest food, fight hunger and build community. He shared the Audience Award ($2500) and won First Place for Innovation ($10,000).

In just six years, Food Forward has rescued more than 12 million pounds of fresh produce, 100 percent donated to over 300 social service agencies that help feed those in need. Backyard harvests, a Farmers Market Recovery Program and donations from dozens of downtown L.A. wholesale produce distributors have resulted in more than 48 million servings of fresh produce for hungry Southern Californians.

Food Forward was selected to represent L.A. from a list of 135 non-profits that have completed the local Social Innovation Fast Pitch program, organized by Social Venture Partners Los Angeles. Nahmias competed in the 2010 program, winning the Innovation Award and an Audience Award and receiving $6,000 in prize money for Food Forward.

“It was an honor, as I wrote the pitch for this event, to review and re-frame how far Food Forward has gone in the last five years,” says Nahmias.  “It’s crazy to think that when Food Forward competed 5 years ago, there was no paid staff, vehicles, or Board—in fact Food Forward was not yet a 501(c)3. Now we have a staff of 12, a Board of 8, and a fleet of 5 vehicles, all focused on recovering and donating more than 6 million pounds in 2015 alone. The creative process and support Social Venture Partners has given Food Forward since our infancy has been humbling and has served as a guiding light.”

To craft his Philanthropitch speech, Nahmias worked with coach Alina Sanchez of SVP who has coached over 75 nonprofit organizations. As the CEO of MLabs, she also coaches executives in the private sector including those at AT&T, Fox and Gap.

Social Venture Partners cultivates effective philanthropists, strengthens nonprofits, and invests in collaborative solutions – creating powerful relationships to tackle the community’s social challenges.

According to Diane Helfrey, Executive Director for SVP Los Angeles, “Food Forward was our clear choice to represent Los Angeles at Philanthropitch. Not only is it an elegantly simple concept, but the organization’s resourcefulness, growth and community impact are incredibly compelling.”

 The goal of Philanthropitch is to help seed and support social change in a transformative way with the ultimate goal of helping the winning organization attract a partner for a major investment ($250,000). Nahmias says that Food Forward’s wish list for this investment would “provide two logistical experts, a crackerjack IT system and another truck. Together these will allow Food Forward, in 2016, to double the 6 millions pounds already recovered this year.”

As Nahmias concluded in his Philanthropitch, “Hunger is not a supply problem. It’s a distribution problem. Food Forward offers a home-grown solution that’s replicable across the country.”

The text of Rick Nahmias’ Philanthropitch is available upon request to

Read More: Posted in Backyard Harvest, Community Action, Farmers Market Recovery, Food Education, Fundraiser, Urban Hunger, Volunteer Organization
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Volunteer in Simi Valley helps donate over 23,000 pounds to fight hunger!

Volunteer in Simi Valley

Our Volunteer of the Month for September, Ann-Marie McCarthy, is an All-Star Super Volunteer up in Ventura County. You might have seen her picking fruit in Woodland Hills or Moorpark, or representing Zest-Heads at the County Fair in Ventura. She’s also held down Simi Valley for Food Forward, serving as both Pick Leader and Community Ambassador. As we’ve become more and more active in Ventura County, we have really relied on Ann-Marie’s local knowledge, advice, calm presence of mind, and ability to follow through and get things done. Her impressive track record really reflects her passion: Ann-Marie has led at least 2 picks (and usually more!) every month since becoming a Pick Leader, and has picked over 23,000 pounds of fruit since joining Food Forward last year.

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

I saw a documentary called A Place at the Table, which mentioned Food Forward.

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

I hate to see anything (particularly food) go to waste, and I think everyone should have access to fresh fruit and vegetables – not just processed food.

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

I work in insurance as a Unit Statistical Analyst.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?

I like that it gives me a chance to do something constructive to fix a problem that affects a lot of people.

For our Los Angeles County volunteers, what’s your favorite thing about volunteering in Ventura County?

I like that it’s close enough to bike or walk to the picks so I can help one problem without contributing to another – pollution, traffic, etc.

Any words of wisdom you live by?

All I can think of is, “Waste not, want not!” :)


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A Day In The Life

Food Forward welcomed two UCLA interns to the team this summer as part of the Center for Community Learning and the Healthy Campus Initiative. Savannah and Simon were amazing additions to our Pacific Palisades Farmers Market as Glean Team Leaders and honed their skills in research and community outreach on special projects. Read more from Simon as he recounts his summer at the fruitcave!


“Hey, everyone! Guess what? I brought that beet dip today!” exclaimed Emily, the Development Director. Immediately, Laura and Rachel’s faces lit up with excitement. Nearly everyone in the office rushed over to the counter and opened up the pretzel bag to enjoy with the infamous beet dip. This is a typical day in the office.

I have spent most of my summer as an intern at Food Forward. On Sundays I lead the Glean Team at the Pacific Palisades Farmers Market, which is awesome because I get to witness how much food is recovered and enjoy the delicious tamales that a vendor sells there. Meeting new volunteers each time brings challenges, but also makes the glean fun every week.


On the weekdays, I go to the office. Most people associate Food Forward with Farmers Market Gleans and Backyard Fruit Picks, but do not know much about the team that runs those programs. Having worked with them, I can say that first of all, they really love food. In the morning, I am greeted not with a “good morning,” but rather “would you like coffee” and “you should try this chocolate cookie.” Lunchtime conversations usually end up centered on food. After-lunch chitchat is about food as well. Joe, the volunteer coordinator, told me how the office has “sandwich days” once in a while, when everyone brings different sandwich parts to make delicious, unique sandwiches in potluck fashion. As a food-lover, working with like-minded people was a pleasure.

Each day with Food Forward has been a new experience, whether it’s gleaning at the Farmers Market, delivering flyers, or seeing people working while standing and using a Food Forward box to hold the computer. Everything about working with Food Forward was wonderful, and “orange” I glad I spent my summer with such a “fineapple” organization.

– Simon Joo, UCLA Summer Intern 2015

Read More: Posted in Community Action, Farmers Market Recovery, Food Education, Los Angeles Volunteer, Volunteer Organization
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