Meet Rick Nahmias, the Founder and Executive Director of Food Forward, SoCal's largest harvesting for the hungry non-profit. Food Forward's volunteers have rescued nearly 5 million servings of fresh local produce for our community's most vulnerable since forming 3 1/2 years ago.
Q: What does Food Forward do on a daily basis?
Rick: Food Forward connects people with people through food - and is making great strides to curtail food waste across our region by assembling our corps of volunteers to harvest excess backyard and public space fruit, and glean local farmers markets and parts of the downtown wholesale terminal. We then donate 100% of this produce to over 50 agencies serving people in need: food pantries, women's shelters, after school programs, homeless agencies, HIV/AIDS programs, etc.
We also have a education and food preserving program called CAN IT! which is a quarterly hands-on workshop where participants learn a diverse range of food preserving techniques from professionals working on the cutting edge of this growing field. We'll be launching the 2013 Foodsteader Tour (as we call it) in Spring next year - and I'm happy to say the last two years of this program have sold out entire workshops from gourmet fruit jamming to cheese making. With all teachers donating their time and locations, this is a social enterprise with 100% of the funds raised going right back into Food Forward's harvesting programs. One other way we raise funds for our work is through Private Picks which are fun team-building activities for corporations, schools and faith-based groups. (http://foodforward.org/get-
Q: How does sustainability fit in with your work?
Rick: I am adamant that the amount of food waste in this country - over 40%- is shameful. Coupling this with the fact that we live amidst over 500,000 acres of decommissioned commercial fruit and nut orchards that STILL produce fruit year after year - it is hard NOT to be committed to feeding people with this healthy food, and stewarding these trees which are older than many of our parents. I came out of a career as a photographer and was a trained cook. Having documented the human cost of feeding America in Californian fields (see "The Migrant Project" - http://themigrantproject.com) and witnessing the cruel irony that those who feed us often cannot afford to feed themselves made me angry and wanting to effect change. The 2008 election galvanized me further on several fronts, not least of which was seeing mindless food waste in my neighborhood in the form of unused fruit dropping to the ground. A few weeks later I decided to try this idea by gleaning a neighbor's tree. Since then we've grown to nearly 4,000 volunteers strong and have held nearly 600 harvesting events. I find the work incredibly rewarding, immediately and viscerally gratifying and I love the community building that has come with it. Our fruit family keeps growing and welcomes folks of all kinds, knowing in the end it's all about one of the simplest pleasures: feeding people.
Q: What challenges have you faced?
Rick: Honestly, managing our growth has been a challenge. Our first two years were all volunteer run (no paid staff) and produced over 350,000 lbs of rescued produce. At that point it was clear LA had been bitten by the gleaning bug, and we were getting requests from other agencies in need of our produce, from homeowners in other counties, from volunteers wanting to glean more and thus to meet the demand, we began to hire a couple of staff, build a board and get our 501.c.3. We now are four full-time staff, and two part-time and modestly saturate LA and Ventura Counties and have some presence in Santa Barbara and Orange County but are truly just scratching the surface of "Fruitland." We are committed to thoughtful sustainable growth but there is no other geography in the country with our abundance. The possibilities are almost endless with what can be done to have Southern California be a growing source of sustainable food for our region and beyond. We've just kicked off our GO OUT ON A LIMB WITH FOOD FORWARD year-end fundraising campaign, and contingent on its success - donations can be made at foodforward.org in any amount - we will grow our gleaning to San Gabriel Valley in 2013 and add 6 more farmers markets where our volunteers are gleaning at 300% above the programs expectations.
Q: Who is your sustainable super-hero? Who inspires you?
Rick: I've come from a creative arts background - not sure there is a degree in professional urban gleaning anywhere in the US currently - I have a huge number of influences and heroes ranging from Edward R. Murrow to John Waters and most recently, Carlo Petrinni who I had the pleasure of hearing speak in person at the Slow Food Festival/Terra Madre last month in Torino.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Rick: I see Food Forward growing both in size but also in depth. I would estimate we currently glean maybe 1-2% of what is available in the LA area. I'd love to see that just increase to 10-20%, still a small fraction, but something do-able that would make HUGE change in the immediate quality of our community's lives in so many ways: less hunger, less waste in landfills, greater awareness about self-sustaining practices, more community service, smaller carbon footprint, and satisfaction knowing some of the best produce in the world is going to appreciative bellies instead of dumpsters. More specifically I'd love to see our CAN IT! program and the food line it generates (http://foodforward.org/store/) grow into a major social enterprise, and see more and more of our income come from earned income of various mission-related businesses. Simply put, I'd just love to know Food Forward is still here, still thriving and we are still having the honor to keep doing this work.
Volunteers, fruit donors, and anyone wanting to get involved with us can do so by visiting FOODFORWARD.org.