Food Forward: Connecting Angelenos Through Local Food Abundance

Idea by Food Forward

While there are several indicators that Food Forward’s work addresses - such as Health and Environmental Quality - we are focusing on our impact on Social Connectedness for this funding opportunity. According to the LA 2050 study, our county fares poorly on several indicators of social connectedness: Los Angeles ranks 46th among the largest 51 metro areas in volunteerism; Angelenos are less trusting of their neighbors than the nation as a whole; and fewer Angelenos expect to stay in their community for five years or more compared to the national average.

Food Forward offers solutions to these negative trends by providing over 4,000 volunteer opportunities this year, in multiple languages, and as a result connects a myriad of communities across Los Angeles County. If awarded, LA2050 funding would allow us to deepen our highly effective work in areas such as South LA and the San Gabriel Valley. In less than four years since its founding in 2009, Food Forward has established itself as the largest volunteer-powered urban gleaning program operating in California.

We implement innovative strategies that bring people together, often in neighborhoods they would otherwise have never visited, to rescue fresh and nutritious produce from local sources, produce which would otherwise go to waste, and put it in the hands of those who need it the most. Operating just in the greater Los Angeles region, over 5,000 Food Forward volunteers have recovered and donated a cumulative 1.37 million pounds (over 6.5 million servings) of fresh produce from public and private land, wholesale markets and several of our cities largest farmers markets. Our programs convert food (and environmental) waste into a sustainable supply of healthy and nutritious produce desperately needed by local communities and hunger relief programs, which in turn has a huge positive impact on the health of people in our community.

Food Forward operates almost exclusively through social media and relies solely on volunteers to carry out our produce recovery activity. This design not only allows us to operate more cost-efficiently than other hunger-relief nonprofit organizations, but it provides an ideal mechanism through which engaged community members are connected with each other, with new geographies within Los Angeles and with the rich agricultural history of the region. Through Food Forward, volunteers work shoulder to shoulder with other volunteers, nonprofit organizations, farmers, landowners, and corporations with whom they would otherwise not likely have contact. Together they are gaining a deeper understanding of how our personal involvement in the processes of growing, sourcing and distributing food can directly reduce hunger, combat food waste and re-engage with Los Angeles as a past and present agricultural landscape. Engaging in backyard harvesting or recovering produce at a local farmers market are dynamic experiences that empower community members to be actual agents of change.

Over 85% of Food Forward’s volunteer events are regularly oversubscribed and have waiting lists. Through the LA2050 program, our organization would have the opportunity to dramatically expand our key produce recovery programs by capitalizing on the large number of Angelenos who are willing and waiting to contribute their time, energy and food resources to reducing hunger in our communities. By the end of 2013, Food Forward would like to see our Farmers Market Program expand from five to nine local markets throughout Los Angeles County and bring backyard harvesting to new neighborhoods, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley where there are tremendous untapped resources such as volunteers, mature and un-harvested fruit trees and numerous farmers markets.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Since its founding in 2009, Food Forward has engaged thousands of volunteers (who donated over 18,500 hours of service) in nearly 900 harvests, recovered a cumulative 1.37 million pounds (or 6.5 million servings) of fresh produce from public and private land, wholesale markets and farmers markets, and distributed it to over 50+ hunger relief and social service agencies in the greater Los Angeles region. In August 2012 we created the highly impactful Farmers Market Recovery program that is currently operating in five of LA's most robust Farmers Markets and has collected 83,535 lbs, engaged 195 farmers as donors and 414 Angelenos as volunteers in less than one year.

We are proud to say that our work has received considerable recognition. Executive Director Rick Nahmias was winner of the LA Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch Audience Award and Impact/Innovation Award in 2010; a speaker at 2011 TEDx Los Angeles at USC; recently selected as a "New Food Hero" of 2012 by Vegetarian Times Magazine and Ecocentric Blog; and in 2012 was chosen as one of two Southern California delegates to Slow Food’s bi-annual Terra Madre in Torino Italy. In 2011, Food Forward was also the youngest recipient of a Carl and Roberta Deutsch Foundation Halo Award for fostering outstanding volunteerism. Our accomplishments are also receiving increasing attention from dozens of media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, GOOD, KCRW, KPCC, KPFC, LA Daily News, and NPR's Marketplace.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Our work would not take place without the critical year-round engagement of our corps of over 5,000 existing volunteers. Our primary partners are the over 50 hunger relief agencies that receive our produce. We also partner with nearly 195 farmers at five local farmers markets and hundreds of homeowners who donate their produce. We have partnerships with Huntington Gardens and Cal State Northridge and host regular gleaning events with 50 – 300 people bringing in tens of thousands of pounds of fresh produce monthly. Most recently we expanded our partnership with LA City, and now serve as their primary gleaning group at major municipal parks, increasing our gleaning opportunities by 300 percent.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Food Forward carefully tracks all of our metrics, including produce recovery accomplishments (total pounds of produce collected, number of properties gleaned, and total number of servings provided to local hunger relief programs) as well as our volunteer-based metrics (number of volunteers engaged and hours donated). This information is used to evaluate the success of and fine-tune our projects and programs and to develop future goals. We also conduct regular surveys with each of our partner groups (volunteers, property owners, receiving agencies) to learn about their expectations and experiences.

We will measure the project’s success using baseline produce recovery and volunteer metrics from 2012. Each year Food Forward increases its capacity by 15 to 30 percent and we hope to see the proposed expansion result in 25 to 50 percent capacity growth in 2013. Specifically we expect to achieve the following:

1. Volunteer Base – We would like to see our volunteer base increase by 25% (from 5,000 individuals in 2012) and the number of volunteers in leadership positions to increase from 40 (in Dec 2012) to 50 by the end of 2013.

2. Volunteer Events – We would like to increase the number of harvesting events by 50% (from 20 per month in 2012), and up to eight of these events each month would be in San Gabriel Valley, and two in South Los Angeles. We would also like to increase the number of volunteer opportunities for the Farmers Market Program from the current 25 slots per week (at five markets) to 45 slots per week (at nine markets) by the end of 2013.

3. Volunteer Hours - Together this increase in the number of volunteer opportunities would result in an increase of 40% in total volunteer hours donated over the year (from 7,370 harvesting hours and 585 volunteer farmers market hours in 2012).

4. Produce Rescued – Through the expansion of both our backyard harvesting and farmers market recovery efforts, we expect to increase the amount of fresh and nutritious produce delivered to hunger relief agencies by 20% (from 157,000 pounds harvested and 55,000 pounds recovered from farmers markets in 2012).

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

This project will impact Los Angeles by actively engaging over five thousand residents (in 2013 alone) – of the most diverse backgrounds – in gleaning and recovery programs that build community, increase civic participation and renew the belief that we can all play a direct and vital role in reducing hunger among Los Angeles’ most vulnerable. As we continue to promote our mission and accomplishments, we believe we can educate thousands more residents about their important role as a human bridge that connects the abundance of Los Angeles’ untapped resources to those in need.

The end goal of these efforts will be the distribution of several million servings of fresh fruits and vegetables to hunger relief agencies, which will directly benefit over 500,000 hungry and food insecure Angelenos annually. According to the LA 2050 report, high-poverty neighborhoods typically have less access to healthy food options and fresh fruits and vegetables, which negatively impacts the health of people living in those communities. Our work to distribute fresh produce offers a solution to the current crisis plaguing many of our low-resource communities. The produce Food Forward rescues is feeding a wide range of people in Los Angeles: 58% of the donated produce goes to Latino populations, 53% of it goes to women, 39% of it goes to children, and about 10% of it goes to elderly. This is critical work given the marked increase in hunger, homelessness and food insecurity documented by organizations such as the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

Food Forward is proud to offer community members a multitude of ways to become engaged. Our programs cover large portions of Los Angeles County – from Santa Monica to Covina and Claremont, from Hollywood to Woodland Hills, and from Pacoima to Downey and Torrance. Individuals of all ages, demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and physical abilities have the opportunity to volunteer time (at more than 50 food recovery events each month), offer their properties for harvest, or directly recover food themselves.

Our website indicates which events have Pick Leaders fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Korean or Vietnamese. These events not only engage volunteers in harvesting activity but also educate them on hunger, food waste and the untapped agricultural legacy of the Los Angeles region. We understand that the Los Angeles population is aging and we pride ourselves in offering various opportunities for aging and less able-bodied individuals. Additionally, we indicate which events are appropriate for families with small children. We also offer a number of events that are easily accessible by public transportation, which increases accessibility and volunteer diversity throughout all our programs.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

A successful LA 2050, is one where Angelenos take responsibility for the health, happiness and wellbeing of fellow Angelenos. It is a place that is known for its thriving and diverse communities, for the friendliness of its residents and for the innovation of its organizations, businesses and policy makers. It is also place with no food-insecurity, where everyone - no matter what neighborhood they live in or their socioeconomic condition- will have easy access to affordable healthy food. Food Forward contributes to this vision and will continue to strive for a socially connected and healthy Los Angeles.

We foresee Food Forward being THE bridge between abundance and need in the food space across Los Angeles County and Southern California. By 2050, Food Forward will have long become an institution in the region and will have branched out to numerous other counties and even states across the sun belt, while keeping Los Angeles as its nerve center. Food Forward will have a food recovery model that is manageable for small stand-alone neighborhoods while robust enough to engage and supply food to vast institutions such as the LAUSD. The result will be numerous volunteer-powered hubs working in unison to create a sustainable fair and just food system that guarantees fresh local food for all in and around Los Angeles.

When people think of ways to be part of the solution to end hunger, curb food waste or be engaged with people in their community, Food Forward will be the default organization, much the same way Tree People is for reforestation, or Heal The Bay is for coastal clean up.

We see Food Forward as playing a critical role in the development of a smarter and more efficient food distribution system for all citizens of LA 2050, continuing to advance and stay on the cutting edge of our pioneering blend of hi-tech social connectivity (through smart devices/web solutions) paired with the most basic of activities: gleaning of local food that would otherwise go to waste.

We will continue to use food justice as the broad and powerful canvas for our work, expanding and deepening our harvest and recovery, while augmenting it with dedicated education programs and robust social enterprise that will provide jobs to people wanting to work in the food justice arena. At Food Forward we envision an LA 2050 as one in which the public immediately recognizes the abundance already present in our everyday lives – and innately values it as a resource and a solution.