Fruit picking is ingrained in the history of the San Gabriel Valley. Once part of the abundant Citrus Belt, the SGV was home to a major agricultural industry that sent sun-kissed oranges far and wide. After World War II, the region shifted over to manufacturing and technology, and agricultural lands were paved over to make room for new industries and suburbanization.But not all was paved over. What remains of this flourishing time, on a smaller scale, is right in residents’ backyards. Backyard trees in the SGV flourish, and mature orange and grapefruit trees can easily hold 700 lbs on their branches. Unless this bounty is fully eaten or shared, what remains on the branches will rot and go to waste. With 40 percent of food produced in America already going to waste, there’s no reason why good backyard fruit should as well. That's where Food Forward comes in.
In Alhambra and the Los Angeles area, Food Forward harvests backyard fruit when homeowners have more than they can handle and donates 100 percent to local food banks. Food Forward is on a mission to ensure that no fruit goes to waste—especially when such fresh nutrients are so desperately needed at local food pantries.
"What's most exciting about Food Forward is the ability to change the way an entire community thinks about this abundance that we have," said Pam Kaizer, Food Forward board chair.
The organization was established in 2011 and was launched in the SGV in late 2013 after merging with Fruit for All, a local, neighborhood-powered fruit gleaning organization started by an Arcadia high school student in 2010. After founder Zach Selby left for college, Fruit for All properties found a new home in Food Forward.
Food Forward is run mainly by volunteer pickers and team leaders who organize and execute backyard picks. Volunteers in the SGV come from local rotary clubs, school and university clubs, and churches—or are individuals with a passion for food justice and service. As of summer 2014, nine new SGV pick leaders have been trained to lead picks in their communities.
Pick leader Rose Liggon volunteers because she believes the cause creates a win-win situation. "This is something really good," Liggon said. "Eliminating waste, getting food to people who need it, and also getting exercise myself!"
Fruit picker Ian Wagner volunteers to impact local efforts to eliminate hunger. "What's rewarding for me is to watch and meet the people who are not only growing the food, but sometimes who are receiving the food," Wagner said. "Why I do this is to be one person in that chain of giving people access to clean and healthy food."
Food Forward volunteers have picked fruit at nearly 200 properties in the SGV. Alhambra has the potential to feed the hungry with its backyard fruit, but as of now there are more volunteers than properties. Food Forward urges property owners to donate fruit to create healthier trees and less waste.
"I started to tell people, 'I'm really excited, Food Forward is going to come, and they're going to harvest all this fruit.' A lot of people said to me, 'Well, don't you want it?'" said homeowner and fruit donor Paul Duff. "I'm not going to be able to eat 500 lbs of oranges! It feels good, even in a small way, to be part of putting things where they belong."
At Food Forward, everyone wins. Fruit donors see healthier trees, less waste, and get a charitable donation tax break; volunteers have fun in the sun and are engaged with their community; and those in need receive fresh, healthy produce.
To donate fruit or volunteer, visit Food Forward's website. Alhambra residents in need can find Food Forward produce locally at The Giving Bank, People for People, and St. Anthony’s Christian service—all receiving agencies in the SGV area.
Lillian Krovoza is the San Gabriel Valley Expansion and Outreach Intern at Food Forward.