Food Forward Discovers Orcutt Ranch – A Citrus Oasis In Los Angeles

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This guest-post comes to us from Rick Nahmias, founder of Food Forward, LA’s local non profit whose mission is to glean and distribute locally grown food from private homes and public spaces. Tune into Good Food Saturday, March 24th, for a conversation between Evan and Rick.

One of the few things that gets me out of a fruit tree is a request to guest-blog for Food Forward pals, Evan and Gillian. It’s really hard to type 10 feet up surrounded by citrus blossoms.

It’s been an incredible three years seeding then watching Food Forward grow to where it is today – our region’s largest harvesting-for-the-hungry non-profit.  In that time over 3 million servings of local produce have been rescued by our volunteer-powered corps then passed along free of charge to over 25 agencies serving the needy in our community. To see such an insanely simple idea grow so powerful via the energy of thousands of individuals who have come out to harvest with us has been indescribably rewarding.

But the work we do of harvesting excess backyard and public space fruit for those in need also seems so engrained in the fabric of what Los Angeles was just a half century ago – home to over 500,000 acres of commercial citrus – that it seems criminal to not be doing the work we do, and expanding it as best as we can.

That was the thought behind the persistence that finally gained us entry to the 24 acres of city-owned citrus groves that make up Orcutt Ranch – a year-round edible forest in the San Fernando Valley, which is already mature and yielding tens of thousands of pounds, most of which sadly have been just falling to the ground.

The photos above and below show a pretty accurate before and after from our first harvest there in February when 20 volunteers harvested 4600 lbs of white grapefruit in under 90 minutes – 100% of which went to MEND Poverty, one of our largest recipients.

(Keep reading for more photos and info on upcoming events…)

We are thrilled to be partnering with the City of LA on the Mayor’s Good Food Day of service on March 31st and will return to Orcutt again, this time with 40 volunteers.  We hope to continue our work here – and should you be an LA resident and want to support and grow this program which holds so much promise to reclaim otherwise wasted grade A citrus for our city’s hungry, please drop an email to, and CC (Thanks!)

One of the ways we finance our Orcutt harvests, and growing activities (the fruit may be free, but insurances, tools, truck fuel, rent, staff all cost $$$) is through a budding array of social enterprises.  One such program is our CAN IT! Food Preserving Workshops.  Through exposing Angelinos to top-level teachers, chefs and proven techniques we feel we are helping to educate folks about the power and incredibly rich field of food preserving. Our 2011 series was a sell-out and saw such stellar teachers as our host Evan Kleiman spend a day with a dozen students doing hands-on preserving of 20+ varietals of tomatoes in August, and author and food-preserving guru Kevin West teaching about citrus jellies and jams just last month.

The 2012 edition is called the FOODSTEADER TOUR which will take over a dozen participants out into the farms and kitchens with four cutting-edge “Foodsteaders” who are making innovative change around food in the LA area – from a goat farm in Alta Dena, to an heirloom tomato farmer in Winnetka.

The full four-classes Foodsteader series is now sold out (but a few individual classes remain for Winnetka Farms and Sqirl as I write this.) Another benefit of the CAN IT! Classes is they serve as an R+D lab for recipes Food Forward is now developing into a growing line of distinctive gourmet preserved foods, which uses fruit which is donated specifically for the course and/or our pantries cannot use in the abundant quantities we get them. This season our volunteer CAN IT! crew recreated one of our best sellers: preserved Meyer lemons in Moroccan spices.

Thirty-two ounce jars of these beauties go on sale at our Spring Melt (Gourmet Grilled Cheese, fine wine, open bar, dancing, wild and fun entertainments….) on April 14th at Elysian in Silver Lake (which we are thrilled KCRW is a media sponsor of!)

Whether it’s through volunteering for up-in-the-tree harvesting, attending a class on the Foodsteader Tour, or cutting lose at the Spring Melt, there SO many ways this spring to be involved with our growing organization as we spread the fruity gospel of harvesting food, fighting hunger and building community!