The Farmer's Market with Food Forward

The Farmer's Market with Food Forward
an interview with Rick Nahmias, written by Isabel Kuh

In an age where food waste has become an important issue, Southern California’s Food Forward is on the forefront of combatting this issue. Rick Nahmias, an award winning photographer and founder of Food Forward in 2009, recently sat down for an interview with us. 

How has your work as a photographer, photographing marginalized communities, impacted your view on Los Angeles and in starting Food Forward?

It’s become very clear to me there is a huge chasm in this country between the haves and have-nots, and in L.A. this is only amplified.  Creating the photo work I did helped me understand this equation better, put some humanity back into what can often seem like faceless statistics. I also hope my work helps others approach the topic with more compassion and less suspicion. My exposure to the vast world of agriculture that California represents and which I explored in my photography only made me more aware of the abundance we have here in L.A. – be it food, money, talent, innovation, sunshine, etc.

How do you select the organizations that pick up the fresh produce from the various farmers markets?

We start with an on-line questionnaire to ensure they meet basic qualifications such as ability to be consistent partners, what their level of need is, can they use an unpredictable assortment of produce – and use it every week? We love to partner with a diverse and varied set of agencies but we also have limited resource and need to know there will be a true partnership that evolves quickly.  Lastly we do a site visit before we start work with them, to ensure their capacity and need.

What are some challenges that come with running a volunteer organization?

People get busy and might miss an event, so you have to understand last minute cancellations.  Honestly though 90% or more of Food Forward’s events are at capacity or have a waiting list – so we are blessed with a healthy volunteer stream, as well as with those super volunteers who lead events month after month.  They are the blood that keeps this organization flowing and our face to the public.

Has Food Forward made you more aware of waste in your own life and community?

I own a number of fruit trees and with the drought, and I am very aware of each drop of water I put in the ground.  It makes the fruit coming off my trees all that more precious. 

Do you remember being politically engaged as a high school student?

Yes, but honestly back then it was more in the form of anti-authority, and pushing back against rules that seemed to have no purpose but which were there “just because.” I did attend a number of anti-nuclear protests and environmental events in high school as well which set the stage for the LGBT rights activity I did once I got to college, and food justice work that followed that.

Are you able to run your offices with any sustainable practices?

Much of our office was built with up-cycled materials. Like old cabinets and doors repurposed to be conference tables.  My own office has walls built from food bank pallets.  We call it an urban tree house. We tried composting at the office but without going into the details – it was a mess. That said, we have an employee set on getting us started on a worm bin!

What made you decide to go to the Wholesale Market in Downtown since it is a very different environment from the farmer's markets?

We had been getting calls from the Wholesale Market for a couple of years and were able to broker huge pick ups – up to 90,000 lbs at a time.  But it wasn’t until the Farmers Market Programs built our receiving agency capacity that we felt we had the network to consistently distribute the huge mount of produce we get there every day.

What advice would you give to people who want to start their own business or an organization?

First and most important, do DEEP research to see if there is anything in the vicinity of the idea you have being done already, and then go join them.  There are way too many non-profits already in existence, so starting another one should be looked to only after you are sure nothing like it exists, and the service you offer are truly needed.

Where would you like Food Forward to be in 5-10 years? How does Food Forward plan on expanding? 

We are expanding slowly and deliberately.  Whereas it is an easy concept – donating excess fruit to people in need, building a strong non-profit that can last for the long-term is harder than seems. We want to be here in 20 or 30 years as L.A. should have a major place on the landscape of solving hunger problems.

Are there opportunities for internships? 

Yes, we love passionate professional and driven interns – there are openings now listed on our website.

- Volunteers needed weekly for over 19 markets across LA County
County,  harvesting fruit in backyards, being a glean team or pick leader, and more.
- Internships available online