The phrase “farm to table” often comes to mind at farmers markets. With the abundance of fresh produce, many can’t help but imagine the dishes they can conjure up to place on their own dinner tables. However, not all produce is destined for a traditional, picturesque dinner table setting. Extraordinary amounts of produce are left unconsumed and destined, instead, for the garbage after many markets. This is where Food Forward steps in. Every week our volunteers can be seen gleaning produce from vendors at numerous markets across Southern California just before receiving agencies pick up to lead their own distribution for those in need. While the phrase “farm to table” may still hold true, the typical table-top setting begins to take different forms as reclaimed produce makes its way to Food Forward’s receiving agencies.
The ways in which we interpret and interact with food as a symbol has always been interesting to me. It made sense, then, that not too long into my internship did I become intrigued by the path produce takes to those in need. For a typical customer at a farmers market, these items are likely a tool used to better one’s health and to prepare a delicious meal. The rows of colorful fruit and vegetables juxtaposed with fresh flowers and eggs symbolize abundance and the powers of nature to many. To those living without stable homes and with insecure food sources, however, these foods also mean survival.
Since 2012, Food Forward has been gleaning the Hollywood Farmers Market with Food Not Bombs (FNB) as a receiving agency. In this nontraditional “farm to table” storyline, produce goes through a few different processes before reaching the folks at FNB, “a secular group providing delicious, healthy, vegan meals to the community free of charge.” Every Sunday, Food Not Bombs picks up produce from the Hollywood Farmers Market and moves on for meal preparation. From there, dishes of beans, rice, veggie stew, and salad are served to anyone who attends (usually between 30 and 50 people) every Sunday night at Pershing Square and sometimes Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles. According to a member of the Los Angeles chapter of Food Not Bombs, “While the rice and beans provide excellent protein, the stew and salad provide most of the much-needed nutrition for the communities we serve at Pershing Square and Skid Row.”
In order for the produce to reach Los Angeles community members at Pershing Square, we must first take a look at the action going on at the Hollywood Farmers Market where FNB receives their supplies.
It is here where Food Forward gleaners first distribute boxes to vendors with surplus produce to donate. Once boxes are filled at the end of the market, they are collected, weighed, and distributed to receiving agencies like Food Not Bombs.
Every week, a glean is lead by a glean team leader (GTL) and a team of volunteers. The Hollywood market is very large and often calls for multiple teams to get the job done.
Dedication helps drive the gleaning process to completion and produce moves on its way to the next stage!
After Food Not Bombs picks up the produce at the Hollywood Farmers Market, it is immediately prepared, chopped, and cooked at their facility. A schedule hangs on a wall nearby to help everyone work as efficiently and mindfully as possible. Meals are served at 6:30 PM and there is a lot of prep to be done beforehand!
Like Food Forward, Food Not Bombs is powered by volunteers who put in the time and labor in order to ensure that others are fed. The act of working together on these tasks helps to facilitate in the act of building community. Volunteers are able to work at their own pace, yet the positive energy makes everything feel synchronous. As an added bonus, consciousness is continuously practiced as folks use separate bins to collect vegetable scraps for compost throughout the chopping process!
As the day goes on, the scent of stew, rice, beans, and fresh salad act as reminders that it will soon be time to head out.
Once everything is ready, volunteers pack it up, put it in the back of the van, and head over to Pershing Square for distribution.
This part of the Food Not Bombs philosophy really appealed to me: “Food Not Bombs aims to prepare more than just food; we aim to prepare community. We ask our volunteers to wait in line as a member of the community and share a meal with someone they do not know. We try to meet new people and remember names. We have had people come back and serve as volunteers once they’re back on their feet.”
Out of respect for community members, I held off on taking too many photos during this part of the story line. I can assure you, though, that I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of wonderful people and shared in a great dinner time conversation all while surrounded by skyscrapers and a glittery art piece hovering in the air.
The site of folks holding space for each others conversation as they have their meals on makeshift tables speaks volumes about the need for widespread access to food. Food does not always take a linear pathway from the farm to the dining room table of a furnished home. Food travels in multiple directions to the tables of people whose stories should be acknowledged.
More information about Food Not Bombs can be found on their Facebook page.
Farmers Market Recovery Program Assistant (Summer 2016)