Jill Overdorf Shares the Milestones and Advantages of the Food Forward Program
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - What does “food recovery” really signify, and how does one practice it? If you ask Food Forward, the team will tell you that food recovery programs create a healthier environment, greater economic resilience, and more equitable communities—a goal we all share as supporters and members of our own local communities. As one of the nation’s largest produce reclamation and urban gleaning organizations focused exclusively on the distribution of fresh produce, Food Forward is as good for business as it is for the soul and continued health of consumers of all demographics.
Recently, I spoke with Jill Overdorf, Food Forward’s Produce Ambassador and Founder of The Produce Ambassador, to discuss the mission and vision of Food Forward. Today, she joins me to talk about some of the company’s benchmarks and milestones as we look at what makes this operation tick and those that join its program thrive.
“The Food Forward strategy addresses nearly every major need for fresh produce companies looking for food reclamation projects with which to partner,” Jill shares with me. “We also work with 340 different independent agencies, and they have different culturally appropriate opportunities to place unusual fruit. So whether it’s Nopales or rambutan, things that traditional food markets and food banks can’t use, we can find a home for it. Food Forward now works with California and six adjacent states and tribal lands.”
Looking at the numbers since 2009, Food Forward has distributed well over 250 million pounds of produce recovered from produce partners to food insecure communities—equivalent to 1 billion USDA portions of fruit and vegetables.
“This is more than just a gesture for produce companies. It is good business. It is also an opportunity to receive tax benefits for produce donations and is an easy way to conform to the new CA S.B. 1383 requirements. Additionally, we minimize cartage fees and can help companies reallocate market over-saturation during peak harvest times,” Jill reveals.
Looking at some of the leaps and bounds of the organization, I thought it essential to share what I believe to be the tangible testaments to an incredible vision.
Kicking off in 2009, the Backyard Harvest Grassroots Program began with a team of volunteers that ventured to recover 100,000 pounds of homegrown citrus which was distributed to communities in need. Then 2012 gave way to the launch of the Farmers Market Program, where 1 million lbs of produce were recovered and distributed to communities. In 2014, Food Forward dove into the LA Wholesale Produce Market and the produce industry to officially integrate fresh produce companies in scale.
Just a quick hop, skip, and a jump down the road, and the Produce Pit Stop (warehouse with refrigeration capabilities) becomes a reality in 2019 in Bell, California, for growers and distributors to deliver their donations.
In 2020, Food Forward expanded its Emergency Wholesale Recovery Program to combat food insecurity rising during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact is a 250 percent increase in service.
Come 2021, and Food Forward doubled its warehouse space and increased its workforce for greater volume and impact. That metric brought 67 million pounds of produce recovered and distributed to communities. And, last but not least, Food Forward joined forces with Brighter Bites in 2022 in a pilot for healthy produce distribution to California school children.
In terms of its sustainability impact, Food Forward’s produce redistribution saves 5 million gallons of water a day. If you needed a visual for size and scale, that is the equivalent of eight Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Jill shares this additional stat with me, just so I can breathe even easier. Pun intended.
“Food Forward’s recovery of 250 million pounds of surplus produce since 2009 prevented carbon dioxide from entering landfills. This is a stat we do not take lightly,” Jill says. “And, just last year, Food Forward’s food recovery work prevented 215 times more greenhouse gases than its operations emit, resulting in a lighter footprint all around.”
Making sound business decisions means seeing the opportunity in every challenge, and it is easy to see that Food Forward is invested in such a puzzle, and such a solution.