Wrote an article for the SM Observer on Food Forward's Farmers Market Recovery Program at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market! Enjoy!
Thousands of Pounds Gleaned Weekly at the Santa Monica Farmers Market by Food Forward
The best solutions to problems are sometimes the simplest. Taking a step back and utilizing an asset that you never even realized was there. Eight weeks ago Food Forward launched their Farmers Market Recovery Program at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market. On their first day at the Wednesday Farmers Market the Food Forward’s Farmers Market Recovery program gleaned 1,313 lbs!
Along with two other markets (Studio City and Hollywood) at their two month anniversary they’ve gleaned a total of 14,777 lbs (7.4 tons) of excess produce from 82 farmers across 9 local receiving agencies (all within 5 to 7 miles of the market they’re gleaned from).
And how does this simple solution work? Food Forward “Glean Team” volunteers arrive at the market ready to glean in their bright blue caps and khaki aprons and issue collection boxes ornamented with the Food Forward logo to the farmers. “Food Forward’s Farmers Market Recovery program is a very active, involved, and passionately committed group of individuals,” observed Laura Avery, the Farmers Market Supervisor for the City of Santa Monica. The farmers fill the boxes with their unsold excess produce. At the end of the market, the Food Forward volunteers collect the boxes and distribute them to their receiving agencies.
These generous farmers receive a quarterly donation letter from Food Forward, which they can use for tax purposes. And, as Laura Avery notes, “most importantly, they know the food they grow with such love and care is going to help feed Santa Monica’s and Venice’s most vulnerable families and individuals.” In the few months Food Forward’s Famers Market Recovery program they have gleaned enough prized produce to serve over 37,900 meals to over 20,000 people in need.
And what exactly does that gleaning word mean? Gleaning, which has been around since the Old Testament, is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.
Wherever they go Food Forward does things 110% “They have a very effective food recovery program because they took the time to identify themselves to me by writing an introductory letter,” explained Laura Avery. “We then went around and introduced them to every individual farmer at the market so we had a face to face introduction.” ”They are consistent in their presentation and their pickup. The organization has its own boxes. I can’t stress enough how important that is for them to respect the farmers and bring their own boxes so farmers don’t have to give away valuable boxes with the product that’s in it; cause price and cost are very important to farmers.”
“Their volunteers always agreeable, dependable, and put on a good professional show. We never have a problem with leftover produce just left in a pile that they didn’t pickup.”
“This group is active, engaged, involved, very friendly, very outgoing. They have made incredible inroads as far as establishing very rapidly very good relationships with the farmers,” noted Avery. “They’ve built up quite a bit of farmer loyalty.”
Santa Monica Farmers Market Recovery program two receiving agents are Step Up on Second, just steps away from the market, and St. Joseph Center in Venice. Food Forward always insures that none of their food goes to waste. “The first day when they realized they had an excess food,” recalled Avery, “they were able to literally put the produce in the back of Managing Director Meg Glasser’s car and take it downtown to a woman’s shelter.”
These two 501.c.3 organizations clients happily use 100% of what the farmers donate each week. Step Up on Second uses 100% of produce in their 200 prepared meals they serve each day, serving over 3,000 clients each month. St. Joseph Center uses 80% of produce in their Client Choice Food Pantry serving 600 clients daily, and the rest in their Client Culinary Training Program. Both agencies use 100% of the produce within 3 days; most is used within 24 hours. All items are stored in walk-in refrigerators; Food Forward conducts site visits quarterly.
Food Forward’s mission is to engage volunteers to harvest locally grown food from private homes and public spaces, which is then distributed to local food pantries and organizations serving those in need. Along with their Farmers Market Recovery program Food Forward convenes at properties they have been invited to and harvest their excess fruits and vegetables, donating 100% to local food pantries across southern California. Since forming in 2009, they have harvested/rescued over 1,000,000 lbs of fruits & vegetables at hundreds of properties with 100% of what they pick going to feed the hungry.
“The way they’re growing and reaching out in the community it seems that it’s a program that just has no end in sight. We could not be happier to have them here,” continued Laura Avery. And Food Forward is constantly building a Farmers Market Recovery community. A group of passionate food advocates who sit at the intersection of Farmers, Market Managers, and Receiving Agencies. They’re about getting things done instead of talking about getting things done, as they like to say “less talk, more rock.” They serve local community members in need, and they want to keep growing. If you are interested in joining this Farmers Market Recovery program, drop a line to Mary Baldwin at email@example.com.
“It’s working great,” concluded Avery, “and if anyone else out there wants to have a program like this I suggest they call this fine group and get them involved because they do pickup and they do deliver!”
For more info on Food Forward check out foodforward.org
Kat Thomas is a food writer who is psyched that one of her favorite do-gooder organizations is making it over to her hometown. You can check out more of her writing at edibleskinny.com