Posted Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 at 5:42 pm
The constant sunshine and good weather can lull us Angelenos into believing that we live in a land of plenty. Put a seed in the ground and chances are it will grow. Yet, the reality is that hunger remains a serious problem here.
Here come the hard facts.
- 1,000,000 Angelenos feel hungry every day.
- The recent economic crisis has exacerbated the situation, resulting in increased unemployment, home loss and a 41% rise in those seeking emergency food services.
- Most disturbing is that children and the elderly are the most at risk with 25% of LA children and 50% of independent elderly facing food insecurity on a daily basis.
Rick Nahmias of Food Forward came up with a juicy idea to help combat these staggering statistics. Started in 2009, his organization gathers volunteers to glean excess fruit from trees in private residences and then donates the bounty to food banks.
As of November 12, Food Forward has collected 60,649 pounds of fresh fruit in 2009.
Though this number is astounding, it is not hard to believe. As a native Angelino, I’m used to seeing trees sitting in yards pregnant with fruit that is never picked. Many home-owners treat their trees as mere decorations. They don’t know what to do with all they produce and they don’t have time pick it. So the fruit dangles, like so many dusty Christmas ornaments, rotting away.
With Food Forward in the picture, hopefully there won’t be many un-harvested trees left in LA.
So, how do we preserve all that fruit? Can it of course!
On Sunday my husband and I were lucky enough to participate in Food Forward’s brand-new canning venture at M.E.N.D’s kitchen in Pacoima.
M.E.N.D stands for Meeting Each Need With Dignity. Started in the early 70’s in a garage, the organization has now grown into the largest poverty agency in the Valley. They provide emergency food, clothing, medical, vision and dental care in addition to several other services. In 2008, they served over 368,969 individuals.
Kevin West of the savingtheseason.com and Surfas Canning Class fame, and Nina Corbett of putsup.com were generous enough to donate their time and lead a workshop for Food Forward volunteers in M.E.N.D Poverty’s kitchen. The idea being to train gleaners to preserve their fruit to donate or sell as a means of raising money for the organization.
On this Sunday afternoon, about 20 FF volunteers gathered around a table filled with fruit and listened as Nina and Kevin gave instruction.
The canning process is straightforward and, in practice, pleasing in its Zen-like repetition. First peel the fruit, then chop it, wash the jars, heat them, boil the water, make the simple syrup, poach the pears, stuff the jars with as much fruit as possible, then seal the jars, boil them, cool them, and eventually eat them.
Each volunteer brought 12 jars to donate. So with 240 jars, 10 crates of pears, and 7 huge pots we split into groups and got to work. I grabbed a peeler with the dullest blade I’ve ever used and picked a pear to peel (say that three times fast).
Soon, everyone was moving apace: peelers, choppers, syrup makers, water boilers, timekeepers, jar washers, talkers, photographers, and jokers. We were a jolly group, buzzed with the easy camaraderie of folks who think spending a Sunday afternoon canning is a fun idea.
My husband seemed to be having the best time, challenging anyone close by to try squeezing more pears into a jar than him. Needless to say, nobody could – for which he gave praise to many years of playing Tetris.
After a few hours, it was time to can the canning. There was no official count, but I’d say we made about 50 jars of pear preserves which were all donated to M.E.N.D. Not bad! Plus, FF now has a small army of expert canners at the ready.
Afterwards, we were treated to a smorgasbord of Kevin and Nina’s gourmet preserves. Kevin’s Fire-Roasted Peppers in Red Wine Vinegar (a recipe that is thankfully published on his blog) were transcendent. Nina’s raspberry jam was about the best I’ve ever tasted. Oh and the pickled okra – yum!
For those of you out there with fruit trees in your yards, Food Forward is always looking for new trees to harvest. Contact Erica, the Property/Harvesting Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!