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Free produce and less waste: Hundreds fill their bags in a ‘Fruit-Share’

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It’s a common scenario in Southern California: You’re walking down the street and pass trees dripping with kumquats, lemons, oranges or avocados. Some of the fruit may already be on the ground. It looks tempting, but you resist picking some for yourself, despite knowing that much of the fruit will end up rotting on the sidewalk.

Alison Veit, Julia Sherman, Joanna Golvinsky and Alia Haddad were tired of seeing so much of L.A.’s urban fruit go to waste. Together, the four friends, who all work in the food and agriculture industry, planned an event they christened Fruit-Share, a countywide fruit and vegetable exchange. Anyone could donate, and anyone could pick up produce for free.

The organizers spread the word about Fruit-Share — which started at 8 a.m. Sunday and ran until midafternoon — using Eventbrite, Instagram, social media and word of mouth.

More than 230 people with fruit to share, who live in areas ranging from Topanga Canyon to East Los Angeles, uploaded their addresses to a Google map, which was then sent out to the 1,100 people who had registered on Eventbrite. Some participants picked up fruit in their neighborhood; others drove across the county to collect peak summer produce.

“It’s like trick-or-treating for adults!” said Savannah Dimarco, who spent her Sunday following the map around East L.A. (which had a high number of registered produce donors) picking up peaches, kumquats and grapefruit. “There’s nothing like fresh fruit picked off a tree,” said Dimarco, who lives in an apartment.

The organizers wanted to ensure the fruit exchange was open to everyone. “There are lots of people who reached out to make sure they could participate, who don’t have produce to donate,” said Haddad, who works for Food Forward, an organization that collects surplus produce around Los Angeles and donates it to hunger-relief agencies. Several participants in Fruit-Share said they are experiencing food insecurity.

“At Food Forward we usually donate directly to hunger-relief organizations, but this is more of a person-to-person model,” Haddad said.

For Rachel Cellinese, the fruit exchange was a perfect opportunity to meet neighbors and other fruit lovers in her area. “It’s been nice interacting with people,” said Cellinese, who stopped by Andy Crocker’s house in Atwater Village to grab oranges and fresh herbs. Crocker, like many participants, found out about Fruit-Share on Instagram.

“I know a lot of people who are involved in food activism,” Crocker said, adding that throughout the pandemic she has been exchanging food with friends and neighbors. “It’s nice because this is now an official celebration of what we have been doing since March,” she said.

Adding to the spirit of the day, organizers held a competition for the most creative display of produce. The winner, Alex Kacha, won a Claire Nereim-designed tote bag decorated with replicas of various fruits. Kacha, an artist who lives in Highland Park, created a Grecian tableau with draped silks to display pomelos, tomatillos and mint.

“I wouldn’t have been this excited about the Fruit-Share before the pandemic,” Kacha said. “I’ve had time to slow down and focus more on my garden because of coronavirus, and it was exciting to see what other people have been creating too,” Kacha said.

Before the pandemic, the organizers had planned to host a “fruit bazaar,” in Chinatown with people coming together to share their backyard bounty. “Once the pandemic happened, we knew that wouldn’t be possible,” said Sherman, founder of Salad for President, a project that connects food and art.

“We realized this would be better as a dispersed event, because now the casual passerby as well as people who know about the event can collect fruit,” Sherman said.

“I always say fruit is diplomacy; it brings people together” said Golvinsky, one of the Fruit-Share organizers. Glovinsky is the founder of Fruitstitute, a fruit tree care service. She helps amateur gardeners keep their trees healthy. “It’s all about the soil,” she said. “If your trees always have fruit, you always have something to offer.”

The organizers hope to make Fruit-Share a seasonal event. The next exchange is likely to take place in winter, with a focus on seasonal citrus.

“You should never have to buy a lemon in Los Angeles!” Sherman said. “There is so much food insecurity and so much food waste around L.A.,” she added. “The Fruit-Share is a very fun and lo-fi approach to that problem.”

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