When I last checked in on Food Forward, the organization was collecting 165,000 pounds of produce per week and feeding 1 million people per year. The non-profit started by organizing backyard fruit picks and recovering produce from local farmers markets – initiatives that are still in effect – but their Wholesale Produce Recovery program increased “upcycling” exponentially. To coincide with their 10th anniversary, a new Produce Pit Stop in Bell aids giving even more.
In 2014, their first year of Wholesale Produce Recovery, Food Forward and their “Glean Machine” (their truck’s name) expected to collect 300,000 pounds of food and ended up recovering 4.2 million pounds. Since then, four 28-foot trucks replaced the Glean Machine, and the wholesale recovery program vaulted to 22 million pounds collected in 2018. Produce Pit Stop will allow Food Forward to boost their wholesale operation by 50% to 33 million pounds by the end of 2020, an astounding feat for battling food hunger and waste. By already diverting millions of pounds per year, Food Forward and partner agencies feed so many more people and stave off landfill rot that results in greenhouse gases.
Food Forward scouted 80 locations over 18 months for Produce Pit Stop before settling on a 1920s warehouse next to the Salvation Army‘s Bell Shelter (the largest homeless shelter west of the Mississippi) and GrowGood (a non-profit urban farm) in a location that Nahmias describes as an “oasis of dignified social services.” The industrial area just east of the 710 freeway houses their large, upraised building with exposed wood rafters, corrugated metal and wood dividers and orange branding (both figurative and literal). A massive fridge is the middle is the beating heart that drives the program. Food Forward had to turn away produce since they didn’t have the space and refrigeration to store it. Produce Pit Stop solves that problem, bolstering their mission for “upcycling, saving things that would otherwise go to waste.”
Seeds of Hope executive director Tim Alderson said, “Food Forward has the magical ability to conjure produce from nowhere. We have the ability to feed it to people who need it.” Food Forward certainly can’t tackle food hunger alone, as Nahmias made clear during his speech. Since their inception, Food Forward has engaged 10,000 volunteers to help collect produce. Prior to launching Produce Pit Stop, the organization completed a test run with 600,000 pounds of produce, which went to 1,800 hunger relief agencies that help distribute produce across eight SoCal counties.
In 2018, CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program awarded Food Forward a grant to finally build an essential warehouse to store and refrigerate produce before redirecting produce to hunger relief agencies that distribute food across the region. The June 20 ribbon-cutting was a joyous occasion that makes a major impact in their eco-friendly fight against food waste and hunger. In 2018 alone, Food Forward helped to feed 1.75 million food insecure people, and that number will only rise thanks to the Produce Pit Stop and the people that made this facility possible.