Jill Overdorf Discusses the Mission, Vision, and Benefits of Food Forward
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - It is such a gift when we can satisfy the head and the heart in this business. While we practice balancing the demands of today—labor issues, supply chain costs, political dynamics—on a razor’s edge, one company is helping to make giving back as good for business as it is for the soul and the environment.
Jill Overdorf, Food Forward’s Produce Ambassador and Founder of The Produce Ambassador, is one of those individuals helping to make such a feat possible. The industry veteran joined me to talk about Food Forward, a community produce supplier whose goal is to provide surplus produce to more than 340 hunger relief agencies in California, neighboring states, and tribal lands through The Farm Project.
“Food Forward started with very humble beginnings in 2009 with a backyard harvest and a passionate idea. Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Rick Nahmias, saw all of the private orchards in Southern California as a way to feed people,” Jill shared with me. “Rick came with a very entrepreneurial spirit and asked, ‘Why aren’t we taking unused oranges, lemons, and pomegranates off of these trees and distributing them to people who could use the food?’”
There was born one of the nation’s largest produce reclamation and urban gleaning organizations, focused on the distribution of solely fresh fruits and vegetables. And, like the businesses it works with, it has a model that reconciles the head, the heart, and the environment.
“This organization has upcycled over 250 million pounds of fruits and vegetables away from landfills and into communities experiencing food insecurity, by rescuing fresh produce before it’s thrown away,” Jill reveals. “On top of that, Food Forward’s mission is executed through its 100 percent plant-based and environmentally friendly operations that reduce costs for produce partners by reallocating unused and surplus fruits and vegetables across the region, locally and nationally. We have a program that picks up surplus produce from just about anywhere in the U.S.”
Food Forward is not just a grand idea but provides a long-term sustainable solution and partnership for fresh produce suppliers. The organization received 67 million pounds in 2021, and less than 1 percent ended up in landfills. With SB 1383 in effect—California’s efforts to implement statewide organic waste recycling and surplus food recovery—there is much to be gleaned and gained from Food Forward.
Another advantage, Jills tells me, as a veteran of many leading-edge produce companies herself, comes in helping to better manage the market.
“This program makes better business sense in many ways than resolving to simply pay to dispose of the waste. There are companies who, during different parts of the year—let’s say, Thanksgiving with celery—experience an abundance of product and the grower doesn’t want to flood the marketplace. So, the company will donate a significant amount to make sure that supplies aren’t oversaturated,” she details. “And that’s an opportunity—whether it’s strawberries, celery, or citrus among many others. If there’s a glut in the market with tomatoes and companies don’t want to see the price go down in the market there is a better solution.”
Many times, in fresh produce, what makes good business sense does not always balance our wants and our needs. With Food Forward, I believe we can take a step toward what truly can.