LA Times: How Angelenos are battling food insecurity by using hyperlocal apps to share their bounty

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This article was written by Dakota Kim and is available in full on the Los Angeles Times website.

Galora, a food-sharing mobile app created last year in Los Angeles by Ryan Xavier and Chris Chin, owes its genesis to the pandemic.

When Xavier’s firm, vacation rental company Cobblestone Paris Rentals, lost nearly all its business in March 2020 because of travel bans, he turned to his kitchen and garden more for solace than as a potential career. “I started baking bread and planted a garden and was inspired to share the abundance from that backyard,” said Xavier, a native Angeleno and Chinatown resident, adding that the garden already had four lemon trees, two pomegranates, a loquat and a “monstrous and over-productive persimmon tree.”

In the early days of the pandemic, while walking around his neighborhood, Xavier wondered how the avocados and citrus he saw on neighbors’ trees, as well as the bread he smelled baking in their houses, could be shared with others who were struggling to put food on the table.

“We essentially live in an orchard in Los Angeles,” Xavier said. “The city is built upon former citrus and avocado fields, and many of those trees are still there, behind fences and garages and in backyards just out of reach of the general community. It’s clear that some neighbors have far too much for one family to eat, but how do you make that contact? … We have a sense of privacy and private property. … We have these preexisting barriers and need a way that’s socially acceptable to share.”

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Passion fruit and lemons are only some of the fruits Thuy Tran grows in her Glendale garden.

In May, Xavier decided to create what he hoped would be a solution to the sharing issue. He circulated a one-page questionnaire via Facebook and NextDoor, asking potential users what produce they grew and whether they were interested in trading, sharing or making community connections. People also were asked whether they preferred a contactless trade, one-on-one trades, self-picking farmstands on their property or for Galora to handle distribution.

By July, he had developed his app, which allows local residents to share food and produce with one another, with an option to sell as well — usually at lower-than-grocery-store prices. Xavier says Galora users started sharing prepared foods as well.

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Sorina Vaziri, a Galora app user, holds seedlings in a repurposed food container.

“We had more than a thousand people sign up in three weeks,” Xavier said. “It’s been a passion project for us to see people posting their fruits and vegetables, home-baked bread, lumpia, chilaquiles, empanadas from Argentina, tiramisu, focaccia, Indian food, Indonesian food.”

If a member doesn’t have extra food supplies, he or she will often assist with fruit picking, preserving, dehydrating or baking, Xavier said. After helping out, the member will keep some persimmon bread or dried fruit or jam and give the rest to neighbors and the fruit tree owner.

“People need to rethink and reevaluate their place in their community, because often they have a skill to contribute,” Xavier said. “We live in an abundant, multitalented community in Los Angeles.”

Xavier sees the food gift economy not only as a way to alleviate loneliness and financial shortages during the pandemic but also as a progressive movement toward rediscovering community.

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Ryan Xavier sits by a spread of food he traded with members of Galora, the app he created.

“Our members are creating a return to a societal interaction that existed for millennia but has disappeared in modern cities by virtue of private property, a focus on long workdays and commutes, and the isolation of the nuclear family,” Xavier said. “Human beings are social creatures, and a lot of people didn’t really realize the negative impact of this many months of not going into work, of not having a friend circle.”

Xavier also created a mentorship program within Galora, where members can teach one another a skill, whether it’s cooking, foreign-language conversation, ukulele lessons, Lamaze breathing or yoga. Users of the app can access videos with foraging guides, gardening tips and cooking lessons.

Culver City videographer and pastry chef Alexandra Dorros used Galora to make an exchange that many would consider unusual: swapping her avocados for a neighbor’s rabbit feces. Dorros is an avid gardener who uses the rabbit droppings for the compost that fertilizes her 20 fruit trees. Dorros also gives away heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflowers and golden sapotes (a rare fruit that bruises easily and is seldom found in grocery stores) on Galora, and a neighbor she met through the app leaves other types of fruit on her doorstep. During passion fruit season, Dorros donates some of the produce to Nourish L.A., a charity group she found through Galora, and gives away and trades both passion fruit and passion fruit ice cream to neighbors.

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Alexandra Dorros, along with her dog Charlie, at her Culver City home.

“With the pandemic, things have changed a lot, and you value your neighbor more, and food more,” Dorros said. “There is definitely a change of going back to basics. Food you’ve grown is even more valuable than going to the supermarket and getting something with pesticides. It’s a little extra love.”

For nurse and Glendale resident Thuy Tran, using Galora to give away produce like moringa leaves, goji berries and passion fruit from her 7,000-square-foot backyard has changed how she feels about the city. “I always thought the city was so selfish,” Tran says. “When I joined Galora, my passion fruit were already growing, so I offered them to people, and they were so excited, and they wanted to know how to grow them, and I even donated my moringa superfood smoothies. … Now, I don’t think the city is so bad.”

Images credited: (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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