BY SHERRI YORK
PHOTOGRAPH BY CAROLE TOPALIAN
About three years and half a million pounds of fruit ago, Rick Nahmias while walking his dog in the valley region, noticed unpicked fruit trees that were going to waste. He made the connection between surplus food growth and hungry families, thus establishing Food Forward in Los Angeles. When Edible Communities first visited them in their first year, and since then, their contributions have spread to the Westside, but not their properties for harvest.
The Westside Food Bank in Santa Monica reaps the benefits of Food Forward’s efforts, so Nahmias, true to his locavore mission, hopes to find more Westside property owners willing to share their bounty.
“Anyone with just one or two fully-grown fruit trees produces enough for a scheduled pick,” Nahmias said. His fully insured teams pick with care and maintain strict privacy of the owner. Food Forward has worked at estates and homes of high-profile residents, but also at homes with trees that produce “enough to fill ten grocery bags.”
“It still frustrates me to see a fruit tree going to waste when just down the street I see a homeless man without food,” Nahmias said.
He estimates that Food Forward is only gleaning 3 to 4 percent of the community’s yield. Interested property owners and volunteer pickers can register online at foodforward.com. Nahmias also encourages organizations, corporations and schools to coordinate group picks for team building and community service projects. For those who can’t pick or offer trees for harvesting, they can support the cause by purchasing jams that are now available at Clementine in Westwood or online. Food Forward also teamed up with local food experts to offer seasonal preserving workshops for the community called Can It!
The success of Food Forward depends on a community of volunteers, but its strength comes down to one man who has shown his own hunger to help improve our food system. In 2002, Nahmias called attention to the strife of California’s migrant farm workers through a photographic exhibit and book. He said it’s gratifying knowing that the fruits his organization gleans and donates might feed those migrant workers who often cannot afford to purchase the very foods they grow.
Nahmias may open additional branches in Southern California in the future, but his real long-term goal is nothing more than sustaining the program in its current form of simply using urban gleaning to fight hunger.