Our local farmers market offer a veritable cornucopia of California’s finest fruits and vegetables, but do you ever wonder what happens to the copious amounts of fresh produce that don’t sell by day’s end? Do you lament the trees in your neighborhood that are laden with ripe fruit that eventually rots or gets eaten by birds, because no one harvests them?
Enter Food Forward, a local non-profit that rescues fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste and connects this abundance with people in need. Powered by volunteers, Food Forward convenes at private properties, public spaces, and farmers and wholesale markets to recover excess fruits and vegetables, donating 100% to local direct-service agencies who feed our community’s most vulnerable.
As farmers market devotees, we figured it was high time to help share the weekly bounty we so enjoy. So we signed up to help with the weekly Food Forward recovery at the beautiful Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market, the largest grower-only Certified Farmers Market in Southern California and a favorite of local chefs who gather there to socialize with one another and pick up their weekly orders directly from their preferred farmers.
At noon we met up with our glean team leader, Jake, outside of Step Up on Second, an organization that provides social services to people with mental illness, and one of the beneficiaries of our glean. There, we loaded Food Forward boxes onto carts, and headed into the market to provide the collection boxes to the farmers who agreed to donate some of their unsold merchandise.
When the final horn blasted at 1:30 pm signaling the close of the market, we returned with our empty cart to each market stall where we had left the donation boxes. The yield was simply amazing: gorgeous lettuce, squash, parsnips, bok choy, oranges, potatoes, onion, peaches, nectarines, and plums, plus several loaves of fresh bread! We tallied all of the donations and were so gratified to learn that in just two hours, we helped collect 1,089 pounds of fresh, healthy food that would soon be in the hands, mouths, and bellies of people in need.
In addition to Step Up on Second, the food we collected was headed for two other local organizations. Saint Joseph Center in Venice, which supports working poor families and the homeless, would use this fresh food to stock their pantry, where low-income households can obtain supplemental groceries and nutrition education, as well as attend workshops designed to increase wellbeing and support progress toward self-sufficiency. Groceryships also picked up their haul, which would go to low-income families who receive it along with educational programming and support to maintain a healthier diet.
Volunteering at a Food Forward market glean or orchard pick is great for families, too. Children ages 12–15 accompanied by an adult are welcome to participate in farmers market gleans. Volunteers 16–17 years of age may participate without a parent or guardian, but they must have an adult guardian sign the online waiver when registering for the first time.
There are other ways to get involved with Food Forward, including taking their cooking classes on subjects like canning, beer brewing, candy making, and more. If you have a fruit tree with fruit that you do not use, you can contact Food Forward to become a fruit donor. No more persimmons spoiling on the branch; you can ensure that every piece of fruit goes to feeding someone in need.
If you would like to help on an orchard or backyard fruit pick, visit the Food Forward website to sign up. Most picks take about two hours. Children ages 5 (unless otherwise noted)–15 are welcome with an adult guardian. Volunteers ages 16–17 may participate on their own, but as with the market gleans, they must have an adult guardian sign the online waiver when registering for the first time.
As we waited for the Wednesday market to close so we could pick up the produce boxes from the farmers, we managed to steal away for a few minutes to buy some luscious Tulare cherries to enjoy once we got home. They were juicy and delicious, and yes, even a little sweeter since we knew we had just helped many people in our community enjoy the same fantastic California fruits and vegetables that we are fortunate to savor every week.
Written by Stacey Ravel Abarbanel