Fruit gleaners behind Food Forward look to grow their bounty

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Over three years, a local group has harvested almost 3-quarters of-a-million pounds of fruit from backyards in L.A. and Ventura counties. Food Forward now is looking to pull down even more of Southern California’s bounty for the group’s philanthropic mission.

Overripe fruit on the ground is the last thing Food Forward wants to see. About twice a week, the group's volunteers take up wooden poles attached to metal baskets so that fruit that would ordinarily be wasted can fall instead to hungry families via food pantries.

Board member Erika Kenner is also a veteran picker. "The volunteers win, they have a great experience building community," she said. "The homeowners win, trees are healthier, they get a tax deduction for everything we harvest, we are fully insured so it’s safe. The pantries get fresh free produce and the recipients are getting fresh produce that they otherwise would not get."

On a rainy Saturday at Orcutt Ranch, entertainment lawyer and West Hollywood resident April LaValley gathered her friends for a birthday fruit pick. "Instead of celebrating in a bar or restaurant I thought it would be nice to give back," she said. "I’m interested in the fresh food movement and homelessness issues and Food Forward combines both, in that the fruit we pick goes to shelters, same day."

The organization MEND Poverty takes in the grapefruit LaValley and her crew pull down at Orcutt Ranch in Canoga Park. The Department of Recreation and Parks has long raised money for the Ranch through picks at which the public pays for a box of fruit. This donation pick is an experiment for the city, and a sign of growth for Food Forward.

Erika Kenner said her team hopes to keep growing what it does, to spread its message against food waste and hunger, year round. And they'll follow the seasons. "We’re just finishing up the navel oranges. We’re moving into grapefruits. Valencia oranges are going to be peaking soon, going into summer. We’ll be doing summer harvesting of peaches and plums and apricots," Kenner said. "And then as we go into the fall, we’ll be going into pomegranates and persimmons and figs and the back into winter with the tangerines and clementines so we’re busy all year which is exciting."

Food Forward is fertilized by foundations, donations, special events, and this Saturday, April 14, the group celebrates three years of gleaning fruit at its Spring Melt fundraiser in Silverlake.

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