Farmers Market Leftovers

Share the Love by Sharing the FoodCofA_Food Forward FM Recovery

By Kat Thomas

Growers can estimate, but it’s difficult to predict how many people will actually show up at the farmers market on any given day. Thus it’s not unusual to have leftovers when the last of the customers have trundled off home with their bursting bags of goodies. Hoping to kill two birds—or perhaps apples—with one stone, Food Forward launched a Farmers Market Recovery Program, a.k.a. the Glean Team, in August of last year. With target goals of harvesting food, fighting hunger and building community, this program has created the do-gooder trifecta of a win-win-win.  Through the act of gleaning, an Old Testament concept that initially referenced the gathering of grain left behind by reapers, Food Forward has collected 51,291 lbs of fresh fruit and vegetables in only a few short months to distribute to people in need.

Working in three L.A. farmers markets (Santa Monica, Studio City and Hollywood), Glean Team volunteers arrive at their respective markets sporting royal blue baseball caps and crisp khaki aprons, and issue cardboard collection boxes to local farmers to load up with their unsold produce. Boxes are collected and weighed for tax deductions for the farmers, then distributed to 21 receiving agencies (all located within five miles of the sourced market).

Agencies refrigerate the produce and distribute 100 percent of it within three days; most goes out within 24 hours. In less than six months time, Food Forward’s program has gleaned enough prized produce to serve more than 71,300 meals to more than 31,600 people in need.

“This program is really unique and special,” notes Mary Baldwin, Glean Team’s program manager,  “in that those benefiting from our work are able to experience food they might not otherwise have access to, such as organic kale and heirloom tomatoes.”

A companion Food Forward program harvests citrus fruit at properties where invited Fruitloop volunteers pick excess fruits (primarily citrus) and vegetables. Food Forward then donates 100 percent of what is gleaned to local food pantries such as SOVA and MEND. Since forming in 2009, Food Forward has rescued more than a million pounds of fruit and vegetables at hundreds of properties in Southern California. You, too, can join the team at And if you’d like to take the whole gang to an orchard harvest instead of a bar crawl for your birthday, Food Forward will even arrange a Private Pick program.

—Kat Thomas

Photo of Glean Teamers and the Santa Monica farmers market crew: Laura, Hilary, Alyson, Jodie, Kat, Johanna, Lilian, Edward, by Mary Baldwin.

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