Accelerating food access with AHA Teaching Gardens

March 20th, 2019

Food Forward works with many amazing organizations working to fight food insecurity in our communities. We’d like to highlight one of these organizations, the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens program, and tell you a bit about our partnership.



Based at structurally under-resourced schools throughout the U.S., Teaching Gardens assists families in accessing fresh produce. Teaching Gardens provides schools with the tools to grow fresh fruits and veggies in campus gardens, and encourages students to select their own seeds to meet their unique interests and tastes. The program aims to create “real-life learning laboratories for students to learn what it means to be healthy.” There are over 50 teaching gardens in schools across the country that are connecting students to fresh produce and garden education.


Here in Los Angeles, the Teaching Gardens Program provides community members with fresh produce at free farmers markets throughout South and East LA, rescued by Food Forward’s Wholesale Recovery Program. AHA envisions a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and knows that a healthy, fresh, and colorful diet is important for heart health.


According to Matthew Gallimore, Community Impact Director for School Systems, AHA’s partnership with Food Forward has “accelerated our food access work by offering monthly produce giveaways at our local schools and parks. When we first started offering produce giveaways at our schools, we were only able to offer it once every 2 months due to the time it took for crops to grow. Now, we are offering it twice a month in over 5 schools and 2 parks throughout South and East LA to help address the needs of the community.”




We hope you enjoyed learning about our partnership with AHA Teaching Gardens and the amazing work they are doing to connect students to healthy foods!

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9 Organizations fighting for Food Justice in Southern California

March 8th, 2019

Here in Southern California, Food Forward is lucky to be one of many organizations who are working towards a better food system. Given that 1 in 9 residents in LA County is food insecure, and with many areas in Southern California classified as food deserts, it’s no surprise that many organizations have formed to improve access to nutritious food. From gardening education to food recovery to community health, read on for information about some of Southern California’s food justice organizations.


1. Seeds of Hope:

Seeds of Hope is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles which seeks to help congregations, communities, and schools turn unused land into productive gardens and orchards to provide healthy and fresh food in areas of need across the county. Seeds of Hope looks to create and sustain gardens and garden-based programs throughout the Diocese of Los Angeles to promote physical and spiritual wellness for individuals and communities.


The LA Food Policy council convenes regional stakeholders for working groups and trainings.


2. Los Angeles Food Policy Council

The Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) works to ensure food is healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable for all. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council serves as backbone organization for a network of over 400 organizations and agencies working for healthy, sustainable and fair food. Growing from the collective impact model, we are making transformative change in the following ways:

-We cultivate a diverse network of change makers from across our food system, from farm to fork and beyond, through cross-sector working groups, network events and other civic engagement activities.
-We provide strategic guidance to our stakeholder network through facilitation, research, policy development and training.
-We translate collaboration into policy outcomes, and help incubate, launch and lead food system initiatives.


3. LA Compost

We are a network of community composters maintaining compost hubs throughout LA County. Our team of educators and soil enthusiasts build and facilitate cohesive composting communities for individuals and communities in shared spaces. LA Compost is both the compost hub and the people that contribute to composting in LA. The healthy soil that is created by a community compost hub stays in the community and is used locally to enrich the soil in the neighborhood in which it was created.  


FEAST hosts classes which teach cooking and nutrition, and provides fresh produce to participants. 



At FEAST, we believe that a healthy life has three main ingredients: whole foods, whole people and whole communities. However, we live in a world where many people lack access to basic, healthy fresh affordable foods, and where many more feel isolated from one another. To address these issues, FEAST provides: 

-Food education: Each week, we host nutritional discussions and provide recipes and cooking demonstrations to make healthy eating satisfying, affordable and delicious.
-Access: In each class, we provide free and immediate access to fresh, whole foods through a food scholarship, enabling families to experiment with healthy recipes at home.
-Support, together: Each week, we host nutritional discussions and provide recipes and cooking demonstrations to make healthy eating satisfying, affordable, and delicious.


5. Food Finders

Food Finders is a multi-regional food bank and food rescue program headquartered in Lakewood, CA.  We pick up donated food from hundreds of local grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants and produce markets and distribute it directly to missions, shelters and social service agencies that feed the needy and impoverished. Our volunteers and staff drivers pick up and deliver on a same-day basis.  On average, Food Finders helps provide enough food for 22,000 meals a day, reducing the amount of food insecurity and food waste prevalent throughout Southern California where we serve.


The Garden School Foundation has established educational gardens and nutritional programs in seven schools in Los Angeles.


6. Garden School Foundation

Garden School Foundation provides in-depth garden-based education to youth at Title I schools in Los Angeles, strengthening connections between food justice, environmental awareness, and community health. (Title I schools are those with large concentrations of low-income students.) By using the full transformative potential of school gardens as teaching sites, we nurture a healthy and mindful generation of children that care for their bodies, their communities, and the earth. We currently serve seven Title I elementary schools, reaching over 3,000 students and their families each year.


7. Social Justice Learning Institute

At the Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI), we are dedicated to improving the education, health, and well being of youth and communities of color by empowering them to enact social change through research, training, and community mobilization.

Health Equity initiatives at SJLI include Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL), nutritional education provides community members with opportunities to expand their knowledge, understanding, and access to healthy living activities.


Food Recovery Network supports food recovery chapters at colleges and universities. 


8. Food Recovery Network

Food Recovery Network is a national nonprofit that unites students at colleges and universities to fight food waste and hunger by recovering perishable food that would otherwise go to waste from their campus dining halls and donating it to those in need. Our goal is to change the norm from food waste to food recovery in the United States. Today, we’re the largest student movement fighting against food waste and hunger and have recovered and donated more than 3 million pounds of food that otherwise would have gone to waste. 

Southern California chapters include CSU Dominguez Hills, Claremont McKenna College, CSU Northridge, Occidental College, Pepperdine University, UC Los Angeles, UC San Diego, and more!


9. Riverside Food Systems Alliance:

The Riverside Food Systems Alliance (RFSA) promotes education, networking and advocacy for a resilient “food system”; that is, everyone and everything involved in the flow of food from regional farms to Inland tables.

Core priorities include:
-Supporting farms of all sizes to preserve land best suited to farming.
-Building a food system that ensures a dynamic local farm-to-fork network.
-Creating sustainable growth in the food sector, with good jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs.
-Building community around food and community health.
-Educating, inspiring, and sustaining demand by fostering conversations that promote consumption of local food.
-Ensuring access for all to quality, naturally grown local food.


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From frequent gleaner to Glean Team Leader!

February 20th, 2019

Meet our Volunteer of the Month for February, Oscar Zapata! He’s been volunteering with us for almost 3 years now and always signs up right away to lead the Larchmont market, about 2-3 times a month. He’s super enthusiastic, and we can count on him to take photos of the glean, keep us posted on any changes, and tell us any ideas he has to improve the glean. Oscar also recently told us to let him know if we ever needed someone to lead a glean in Spanish!


Oscar always takes ah-mazing pictures at the Larchmont Farmers Market Glean! 


So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?
I was trying to find a way to give back to my community and somehow help others, so I started to research volunteering opportunities when I found the website for LA Works. After checking a few websites I found Food Forward’s mission and all the things they do help many types of people in different communities great, and Food Forward also has a super friendly and easy to navigate website!


What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
I think hunger is one of the worst feelings that someone can experience, and having so much food going to waste every day is unacceptable knowing that there are a lot of people that go to sleep with this feeling. That’s why I think what Food Forward does is very important and for me it’s something big that benefits everyone involved.


What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I work in a private college where the student body is majority formed by international students, and, as a former international student myself from Colombia, I understand how important is to have support when you come to the US from another country. I help them in the student service office and the education department.





What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward?
Besides knowing that just investing a little of your time can have such a huge impact in someone else’s life and community, the bonds that you start to create with the people that you meet on every step of the glean is part of what makes this experience great in general.


How would you describe the volunteer experience at a market?
It’s just great to get to know the farmers and enjoy an outside activity while contributing a little bit to bringing food to someone’s table. Plus, every time I discover a new vegetable or fruit that I’ve never seen before, which I find very interesting and I love, and it’s very nice to get to know the people that you volunteer with and exchange life stories and learn the reasons why they’re doing it.


What was your first volunteer day like?
I was very excited because it was the first time I was doing something like this in the US, so I felt like I was going to my first day of class in a new school, and I really didn’t know what to expect. But when I got there the Glean Team Leader (Heidi) was someone that I had taken a class in college with not long before and she just made me feel at home! So it made things easier and smooth! Heidi rocks, and she’s the reason why I kept volunteering at Larchmont every time I could, and now I’m leading the gleans there and it’s amazing!



Oscar and Heidi (second from right) reunited at a glean a few weeks ago! 


What have you learned from volunteering?
That the only thing that you need is the will to put a little grain of sand towards the process to help others. And how valuable your time is—because when you think that less than two hours wouldn’t make any difference in the world and you could just stay at home watching tv instead—you are completely wrong.


Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?
There’s not one in particular, but I’ve gotten the chance to interact with some of the people and communities that benefit from what we do and it’s a very gratifying feeling to see how happy they are knowing that their families are going to have food on their tables, and it’s good food that otherwise was going to go to waste. This happened to me when I went on a Sunday to LACC after the glean, and when I participated a few times putting together bags of food for the students and families around Inglewood LAUSD.


Any words of wisdom you live by?
Be kind and treat others the way you want to be treated.




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Produce of the Month: Alliums!

February 15th, 2019

2.16.19—This month we are highlighting a category of plants that are often overlooked. They’re not that fancy or exciting—despite this, we don’t know how we would cook without them. We are talking, of course, about alliums, the genus that includes onions, garlic, and scallions.


Background & History

Alliums have been cultivated as food for a very long time, and most historians agree that onions have been domesticated for at least 6000 years. Onions and garlic are staples in cultures around the world—they are the basis for many Indian and Asian dishes, and are also frequently found in South and Central American cooking and many European cuisines. This is in part due to the fact that they last for a long time once harvested, making them readily available and easily integrated into the diet.

In certain religious practices, eating garlic and onions is disapproved of. In the Hindu and Jain religions, they are thought to stimulate the body and increase one’s desires. Similarly, in some Buddhist traditions, garlic is thought to stimulate lustful and aggressive drives, thus disrupting the meditation practice. While people today still follow these guidelines, there are also members of these religions who consume alliums.



Health benefits

Alliums aren’t just tasty, they also have many health benefits! Some studies have shown that consuming garlic, leeks, and onions can reduce the risk of cancer, due to their sulfur-based compounds. Alliums are anti-inflamatory due to their high flavonoid content, and good for cardiovascular health as they prevent blood clot formation and lower blood pressure. Onions are garlic are also anti-bacterial, and have been shown to inhibit the growth of E. Coli and MRSA, or staph bacteria. As a whole, the allium genus of plants are rich in Vitamin C, B vitamins, manganese, iron, and potassium.


Why does chopping onions make you cry?

We’ve all experienced the painful sting of chopping onions. So, what’s the cause of that pesky irritation? It’s the result of the onion’s defense mechanism—cutting onions damages its cells, which triggers a chain reaction resulting in the release of syn-propanethial-S-oxide. This gas activates sensory neurons in the eye, causing irritation and prompting the eye to produce tears to flush out the irritant. One way to reduce irritation is to refrigerate onions before you cut them, which slows down the enzyme reaction rate.



Quick-Pickled Red Onions
Recipe from The Kitchn, by Dana Velden. Vegan and gluten-free.

Pickled red onions are easy to make and super versatile! They add flavor and texture to sandwiches, salads, tacos, and more.



Makes about 2 cups.


  • 1 medium red onion, about 5 ounces
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup rice vinegar, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar

Flavorings (optional)

  • 1 small clove of garlic, peeled and halved
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 3 small sprigs of thyme
  • 1 small dried chili


  1. Slice the onions: Start 2 or 3 cups of water on to boil in a kettle. Peel and thinly slice the onion into approximately 1/4-inch moons. 
  2. Dissolve the sugar and salt: In the container you will be using to store the onions, add the sugar, salt, vinegar, and flavorings. Stir to dissolve.
  3. Par-blanch the onions: Place the onions in the sieve and place the sieve in the sink. Slowly pour the boiling water over the onions and let them drain.
  4. Add the onions to the jar: Add the onions to the jar and stir gently to evenly distribute the flavorings.
  5. Store: The onions will be ready in about 30 minutes, but are better after a few hours. Store in the refrigerator. They will keep for several weeks, but are best in the first week.
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Making a big impact in a short time

January 25th, 2019

Stephanie joined the Backyard Harvest team in the summer of 2018 and in that short amount of time she has lead 7 harvest events and become a crucial part of the Food Forward’s work in the Central LA region. Stephanie is dependable, great with volunteers, and fun to work with. We want to thank Stephanie for all of her hard work and support these past few months!


So tell me, how did you get started with Food Forward?  
I wanted to use my free time doing something that was not only selfless but had a positive impact on the environment. After sifting through a couple of charities in Los Angeles, I stumbled across Food Forward!

What drew you to Food Forward’s work and mission?
It was the perfect combination of everything I wanted to do: give back to the community, help with food waste, and be outdoors.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering with Food Forward?
I’m a graphic designer so I try to work on personal projects when I have the time. I also watch Seinfeld at least once a day. And I’ve recently just started volunteering with St. Vincent’s Meals On Wheels!



What is your favorite part about volunteering with Food Forward? 
I think it has to be being able to spread awareness about Food Forward. I love seeing people’s reactions when I tell them about what FF does because I believe it’s one of the most relevant and necessary organizations in Los Angeles. 

How would you describe the volunteer experience at a harvest?
Everyone is there for different reasons but because we are all sharing the same experience, there is a refreshing sense of camaraderie amongst the volunteers.

What was your first volunteer day like?
I really didn’t know what to expect since I had done little to no volunteer work before. I was kind of taken back being in someone’s actual backyard. But what was even more surprising was that the family helped out too. It really didn’t feel like work.


What have you learned from volunteering?
It doesn’t take much to make a big impact. Majority of harvests take about 2 hours max. In that 2 hours, we can harvest over 600 lbs. of fruit that would have otherwise been rotting on the floor!



Is there a particularly powerful volunteering moment you’d like to share?
Nothing yet!


Any words of wisdom you live by?
Be kind, be honest, and be yourself.

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2018 Good Food News Roundup

January 18th, 2019

2018 was a big year for Food Forward and a big year in the world of food equity and food waste. The conversation around food waste continues to evolve, and new initiatives were introduced by local and even national governments. The sustainable farming movement is also growing, with plenty of examples of people taking the health of their communities into their own hands. Read on for a roundup of our favorite food news stories from 2018!


Vendors march in support of legalizing street vending in Los Angeles.

1. Street vending is legalized in Los Angeles:

After first proposing such legislation five years ago, the LA City Council voted to legalize street vending in November. The movement was led by street vendors themselves, many of whom are women, most of whom are Latino. Organizations like the LA Food Policy Council and SEE-LA, among many others, were vital partners in creating momentum around the issue. Street vendors, who sell food and other merchandise, are often harassed by the police and civilians. The motion to legalize vending offers new protections and regulations, and endorses street vending as an invaluable piece of LA’s food and economic landscape.  


At a luxury resort in the Maldives, an employee recycles coconut husks into rope.

2. Resorts across the globe find innovative solutions for food waste:

At luxury hotels and resorts in South America and Southeast Asia, thousands of pounds of food are wasted every day, uneaten by guests. To reduce costs and create ecological benefits, many hotels repurpose this food waste into compost for gardens, cleaning products, or biogas to power their operations. It’s an amazing example of how food can become part of a closed loop system which benefits everyone.


Neighbors think outside the box to create their own grocery co-op, Apple Street Market.

3. A Cincinnati community comes together to improve food access

When their local grocery store shut down, people in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood worked together to find a solution. These neighbors organized to create Apple Street Market, a unionized community-owned cooperative. For just $100 (or $10 for those who qualify for SNAP, free or reduced lunch, or Medicaid), community members can become owners of the market. It’s a creative and collaborative model that ensures the community has access to healthy food, as well as good-paying jobs with benefits.


Leah Penniman (left) and Amani Olugbala grow food for the Albany, NY community on Soul Fire Farm’s 72 acres.

4. A Black farmer improves the health of her community and affirms African roots of modern farming practices:

Today more women, specifically women of color, are leading the sustainable agriculture movement. Leah Penniman owns Soul Fire Farm near Albany, New York, and sells her produce at a sliding scale to Albany neighborhoods which lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Penniman also engages youth groups on her farm, and aims to train Black and Latino people in African farming and land management techniques. Often, the origin of these techniques are not recognized in the mainstream sustainable farming movement, and are misrepresented as European practices. Penniman is one of many farmers who is improving the health of her community through connecting to the land.


250 million meals are thrown away in the UK every year–Ben Elliot hopes to change that.

5. Britain appoints a Food Waste Champion to take on discarded meals:

The UK appointed their first Food Surplus and Waste Champion” to tackle the issue of food waste in Britain. Ben Elliot, a philanthropist and businessman, was appointed to the role and will oversee the Food Waste Fund, a £15 million effort to redistribute surplus food. Speaking on his new role, Elliot said that “As a nation, we need to stop this excessive waste and ensure that surplus food finds its way to people in our society who need it most, and not let it get thrown away and go to landfill.” 


Volunteers at the Watts Mudtown Free Farmers Market, our collaboration with the WLCAC, pose with fruits and veggies ready to be distributed to community members.

As an organization which works to prevent food waste and provide fruits and vegetables to those experiencing food insecurity, we believe healthy food is a basic human right. We know from our work that there is plenty of food to feed everyone, but barriers to access get in the way. In 2018, we expanded our Produce Pick-Up program and held 31 events to directly distribute free fruits and vegetables to individuals in food deserts. And in 2019, we’re going to keep working to reduce those barriers and create better access to fresh, healthy food. We hope you’ll join us!

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Reflecting on our first decade and looking towards the next

January 17th, 2019

The first pick happened 10 years ago on January 17, 2009 and was led by Food Forward Founder/Executive Director Rick Nahmias (far left)


Dear Fruit Family,

Ten years is a heady milestone for any organization, especially one started with a simple desire to solve a local problem through grassroots efforts. We are somewhat baffled and very proud to announce that we turn ten today!

In early 2009 I noticed fruit rotting in my neighbor’s yards, while also hearing of growing lines at food pantries due to the cratering economy. I recruited a single volunteer (remember Craig’s List?!) and decided to harvest my neighbor Heather’s ridiculously abundant tangerine and navel orange trees to do some good. The result: 3 weekends of tree climbing cloaked in the perfume of California citrus, and a yield of 800 pounds of fruit. That soon grew into 100,000 pounds of hand-harvested fruit by the end of our first year.

Flash forward to 2019, when Food Forward recovers an average of 100,000 pounds of fresh produce every day. 100% of these fruits and vegetables go completely free of charge to food insecure folks across the region. What a long, strange, and wonderful journey it’s been! 

The “now and then” is a bit mind-spinning, but here are some highlights.


In 2009:

· 4 co-founders and a few dozen volunteers
· Produce only came from backyard harvests
· 5 agencies received our almost exclusively-citrus donations
· There was no staff, vehicles, or office
· For much of the year we had no website, ways to raise funds, or even a name


And today:

· 4,000+ volunteers engaged in 2018 

· 5 thriving programs: Backyard Harvest, Farmers Market Recovery, Wholesale Recovery, kNOw Waste, and our newest, Produce Pick-Ups

· 22.5 million pounds of produce recovered in 2018

· 1,800 agencies served across 8 SoCal counties and beyond

· 30 staff and a fleet of 7 vehicles

· Produce recovered for an average of $.09/pound

· Our environmental impact was the equivalent of taking 2,012 cars off the road in 2018

· An estimated 2 million people will receive fruits and vegetables recovered by Food Forward’s programs in 2019

Explore our brand new 10-year timeline to take a look at our journey!


In many ways, it feels like we’re just beginning. But as is our namesake – it’s about looking forward.  

This past weekend we gathered to launch a formal strategic planning process to create the vision for our next five years in Fruitland.  And while it’s too early to tell exactly where we will go, I can say our first and foremost priority is to grow deeper roots to bring food insecure communities and individuals more free, healthy produce.

To accomplish this, we’ll harvest more backyard trees in Fruitland, plant Glean Teams at more farmers markets, distribute more fruits and vegetables via Produce Pick-Ups in underserved neighborhoods, and grow our Wholesale Produce Recovery program with the aid of a new Produce Depot.

This work couldn’t have happened without an incredibly receptive and participatory community supporting us. As we blow out our birthday candles, we have you all to thank for inspiring us to keep dreaming and actualizing what a healthy, food waste-free Southern California can look like.

To show the gratitude we feel for you, the community from which we sprouted, we gift this brand new video (below) produced with Serena Creative to be shown in Laemmle Theatres throughout February. We hope it reflects even a tiny bit of what makes this anniversary such a beautiful and humbling milestone to have reached.   

Thank you, and here’s to another decade of sharing abundance!

Rick Nahmias
Founder/Executive Director


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Food Foward turns 10!

January 17th, 2019

We mark the anniversary by signing the lease for our Produce Depot near DTLA. This new warehouse space will enable Food Forward to recover and donate 40 million pounds of produce each year, doubling its current produce recovery efforts. The 6,000 square foot Produce Depot will expand our capacity with refrigeration, dry storage, workspace for staff, a new software system to track produce, food recovery equipment, and two new box trucks

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Food Forward holds 2,280 volunteer-powered events

December 31st, 2018

4,050 individuals volunteer with Food Forward in 2018, and give 23,240 hours of their time to help us fight hunger and food waste.

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Food Waste, by the Numbers

December 1st, 2018

In 2012, the NRDC released a report titled “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” This report had some of the first national statistics on food waste — it’s where that familiar “40% of all food produced is wasted” statistic comes from. The authors outlined the costs of food waste, from economic losses to resource inputs to greenhouse gas emissions. The report also helped to get a lot of people thinking about food waste, the choices we all make, and some solutions to the problem. Last year, the follow up to the 2012 report was published with new data, gaps identified, and solutions. We thought we would update our food waste resources with these new findings.


Beautiful vegetables sit in a dumpster at the LA Wholesale Produce Market. Up to 5% of food is
rejected outright by buyers at wholesale markets. 

New standards and goals

Since the 2012 report, much more research has been done on the topic of food waste, and the Food Loss and Waste Protocol created standards for quantifying food waste, making data comparison a possibility. Following the release of the report, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a goal to cut food waste by 50% by 2030, nationwide. The EPA states that it plans to work with food system leaders across multiple sectors to promote action and improve tools for reducing waste. The EPA also put out a “Call to Action” to stakeholders and held a Food Recovery Summit, where 6 key activities were defined by participants. Two of the activities were to increase public awareness and build food loss and waste infrastructures, which Food Forward is proud to do everyday.

Impacts of food waste

“Wasted” focuses on the environmental consequences of food waste, and breaks it down by impact on our ecosystems and climate.

Water:  We use a significant amount of our freshwater supply to grow food in the United States, and because we don’t end up eating up to 40% of our food, a lot of water is wasted in food production. According to the report, 21 to 33 percent of U.S. agricultural water use goes to food that is ultimately wasted.

Land: Similarly, we need land to produce food, yet much of that food never makes it to a table. About 18 to 28 percent of our viable cropland is attributed to growing wasted food.

Landfills: Go to any landfill and you will see a lot of food that Americans throw away—21 percent of municipal solid waste, to be exact. We send more food to landfills and incinerators than any other material. On the individual scale, the average American tosses 210-250 pounds of food annually, or about 720 calories per day.

Climate: All throughout the production chain, we use energy, create fertilizer runoff, and emit carbon as we grow, process, and transport wasted food. Each of these links has consequences for our climate system, including the final destination of uneaten food. When food goes to landfills, it cannot decompose naturally (as it would in a compost pile), and releases highly potent methane gas. Wasted food is responsible for at least 11 percent of all landfill-generated methane emissions, a conservative estimate.


Food is wasted at every stage from farm to table. Up to 20% of food grown is never sold due to cosmetic or size standards.

Gaps and losses

The NRDC report also outlines where food is wasted at each stage in the production chain. It all starts on the farm: the USDA estimates that about 4 percent, or 66,500 acres of planted crops are left unharvested each year. And even more produce is rejected due to cosmetic standards. A study in Minnesota found that up to 20 percent of fruits and vegetables are too large, small, or don’t otherwise meet cosmetic standards, and thus aren’t viable.

Manufacturing and processing food (such as canning, freezing, drying, and precutting) creates about four percent in food losses across all types of food. Produce processing is actually quite efficient, and does not produce a significant amount of wasted food. In addition, many food processing operations divert their food scraps to become animal feed or other nonfood products, such as compost.

Food is also wasted at the distribution stage, due to improper transportation and handling or outright rejection by buyers. Another 2-5 percent of all food products are lost because buyers reject shipments due to cosmetic imperfections, surplus, or other issues. At the downtown LA Wholesale Produce Market, our Food Forward team works to circumvent these losses by identifying these rejected shipments and pairing them with one of our regional hunger-relief agencies.

The food that has made it past all of these stages is ready to be sold in a supermarket—but 10 percent of it, or 43 billion pounds, will never make it off the shelf. For produce, about 12 percent of fruit and 11.5 percent of vegetables are never sold after making it to the grocery store.


Food Forward’s Wholesale Recovery Program rescues fresh fruits and vegetables bound for the trash.

What can we do?

There are many losses and inefficiencies throughout the production chain, and it can feel daunting to figure out how to have an impact on such a huge system. However, it turns out that individual consumers are responsible for the most food waste compared to all other actors in our food system. Consumers waste about 21 percent of all food produced, a total of 90 billion pounds in 2010. Not only is this a huge amount of food, but the resource footprint of food wasted at this late stage is much greater, due to inputs from growing, transporting, and storing the food. One study estimated that food wasted at the consumer stage carried eight times the energy waste of food wasted on the farm. So while there is a lot of food wasted before we even see it, we can make a huge difference by simply changing how we buy, store, and use food.

We can also be creative in how we approach the issue of food waste. At Food Forward, we are redirecting fresh fruits and vegetables from the landfill to people. Other organizations work to increase composting in their communities. There are many examples of products made from food headed for the trash.

40% is a big number, and the ramifications of that amount of food waste are clear. But within this issue of food waste there is so much possibility, so many opportunities to do more and be better. We can feed people, create closed loop systems, and bring communities together. We hope you’ll join us!


One use for food that doesn’t make it to the store? Free distribution to community members, like this
assortment of fruits and vegetables that went home with families in Inglewood. 


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