Eagle Rock backyard yields fresh fruit and food for the hungry

Eagle Rock persimmons pile up. Photo by Martha Benedict

By Brenda Rees

As members of Food Forward, my family and I have been picking fruit and feeding the hungry for nearly three years, harvesting backyard grapefruit, tangerines, oranges, pomegranates, avocados and pineapple guava. Our most recent pick in Eagle Rock introduced us to persimmons, which we decided tasted like a cross between pumpkin and apricots (sorta).

Haven’t heard of Food Forward?  It is one of the best volunteers groups I’ve joined because the work we do by picking and packing backyard food goes directly to feed hungry people; it’s so darn simple. A Food Forward pick is social, fun, lasts about an hour and is suitable for most family members. My 14-year-old daughter Katie is an old pro; she can quickly organize boxes, add an extension to her picker and collect fruit with the best of them.

Persimmon picker Brenda Rees/Martha Benedict

Organized in 2009, Food Forward is a non-profit group that began in the San Fernando Valley with volunteers collecting excess fruit (and sometimes vegetables) to deliver to local food banks and direct service agencies that  feed folks in need across Southern California. Since it began, Food Forward has recovered and donated more than 1.7 million pounds of food, food that would have normally been thrown out, left to rot on trees or half-eaten by squirrels or other critters. Homeowners love us.

Food Forward is now expanding to include more of Northeast Los Angeles and the western San Gabriel Valley. This is good news for me since I can now lead, scout or join picks closer to home.

In fact, the group is actively looking for new volunteers in NELA who can either be leaders, pickers or scouts (someone that checks out the property before a pick to make sure it’s a good fit). An upcoming Pick Leader Academy Training session is slated for December 7 in San Marino, where folks can learn how to organize a simple, community or solo pick. Food Forward’s whole program is perfect for faith-based groups, local scouting troops or any service organization.

Who joins Food Forward? Well, at this recent Eagle Rock pick we had Patty, an older lady from Glendale who told us she liked to volunteer because “it’s outdoors and sometimes I will see birds!” (Yup, she’s a birder).

Recent film school grad Deanna from Hollywood likes the fact that we are feeding the hungry with good food, not the typical salty canned goods or high carbohydrate items that are a staple at most food banks. “I’m all about the food,” she said.

These days, Food Forward is branching out (no pun intended) from homeowners’ backyards to include food collections at local farmer’s markets, where volunteers drop off and then collect boxes with excess and unsold produce.

The group also generates revenue by offering canning classes so folks can learn the art of making jellies, jams and other old timey food stuffs. In addition, they offer fun team-building “Private Picks” for corporations and non-profits for modest donations.

Back in Eagle Rock, it’s getting to the end of our picking and we decide to use the extension pruner to reach some high-hanging persimmons. Katie and I hold a blanket while Pick Leader Max cuts the branch and we position ourselves underneath the tree to catch the falling fruit. Food Forward maybe low-tech but we get the job done.

At the end of the hour, we have picked one box full of persimmons (when you pick grapefruit, it’s a different story). We Fruit Loops (yes, that’s what volunteers are called) usually leave a fruit pick with dirty hands, maybe some squished fruit on your shirt, and a sense of satisfaction.

For more information about Food Forward and the Pick Leader Academy Training Session in San Marino on Dec. 7, visit www.foodforward.org.

Brenda Rees is a writer and resident of Eagle Rock.

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