Gelato maker, food recovery agency team up for awareness-raising treats
Unwanted citrus from North County groves being turned into fundraising custard, sorbets
Two years ago, North County businesswomen Nita Kurmins Gilson and Paola Richard met, became friends and decided to combine their talents in a sweet way to help the community.
Although the pandemic got in the way of their progress over the past year, this month they finally launched their collaboration: ProduceLove.
Kurmins Gilson leads the Oceanside-based food recovery agency ProduceGood, and Richard runs the Carlsbad gelato business GelatoLove. Together, they’re creating a line of ProduceLove frozen sorbets and custards made from the unwanted citrus fruit that ProduceGood gleans from North County groves.
The desserts — which went on sale a few weeks ago in honor of Earth Month at GelatoLove’s two Carlsbad shops — were created to raise money and awareness for ProduceGood’s efforts to feed the hungry, while diverting food waste from local landfills.
“San Diego may be one of the most desirable places to live on Earth, but something’s not completely right when 1 in 3 people are food insecure and 40 percent of all food goes to waste,” Kurmins Gilson said.
Kurmins Gilson and Richard said they clicked as friends almost instantly after meeting through friends in 2019. Both women started their businesses as a second career in midlife, with a goal of giving back to the community. Kurmins Gilson said she admires Richard’s focus, vision and work ethic, and Richard said she feels a kinship with Kurmins Gilson because they both followed their hearts without profit as their primary goal.
Kurmins Gilson started her food recovery enterprise in 2009. That year, her then-14-year-old daughter, Nicole, felt helpless and deeply disheartened about the damage humans have done to the global environment. So, Kurmins Gilson decided to create a community outreach program to show her daughter that even one person can make a difference.
Working with a small group of friends and volunteers, Kurmins Gilson launched the grassroots organization CropSwap, where volunteers collected unpicked fruit from backyard groves and donated it to food pantries. In 2014, the mother-and-daughter team of Jerilyn White and Alexandra White teamed up with Kurmins Gilson, and the trio incorporated the organization as the nonprofit ProduceGood.
ProduceGood has two programs: the original CropSwap, where volunteers glean produce from backyard gardens, groves and at small farms; and Market Share, where volunteers collect donated surplus produce from vendors at farmers markets in Hillcrest, Leucadia and Solana Beach. In 2014, the organization harvested 6,000 pounds of produce. That number grew steadily each year until it exploded during the pandemic.
Last year, thousands of local jobs were lost in the hospitality and other industries, leading to a massive increase in food insecurity. Food banks expanded their outreach, and nearly 400 farmers and gardeners stepped up to share their bounty with the needy. Last year, ProduceGood’s nearly 2,500 volunteers collected 260,000 pounds of produce at 492 locations, and the number of agencies ProduceGood served grew from 20 to 50.
Like Kurmins Gilson, Richard followed her passion later in life. Born and raised in Rome, Italy, Richard was a journalist and international media consultant for Italian ministries and environmental groups. She was successful in her career but dreamed of moving to California after having visited the state as a teen. So with her cousin Cristina, who studied gelato-making in Perugia, Richard moved to Oceanside in 2014 and they opened an Italian-style gelato shop in Carlsbad Village Faire a year later.
Cristina eventually moved back to Rome, and Richard decided to create a lighter gelato product that better represented her own healthy California lifestyle. In 2018, she launched GelatoLove, a gelato brand that uses plant-based emulsifiers and stabilizers and is made with allulose, a low-calorie sweetener made from fruits, including figs, kiwi, raisins and jack fruit.
Selling retail to walk-up customers and wholesale to local restaurants and cafes, GelatoLove was a success. But during the pandemic, those sales fell by 80 percent. Fortunately, Richard’s family in Italy warned her of what was coming well before it arrived in San Diego, so early last year she built an e-commerce website and started a home delivery business. Those sales made up most of her lost retail/wholesale business, and home delivery is a now a profitable and permanent sideline for the shops.
Since introducing the ProduceLove flavors — lemon custard, lemon sorbet and strawberry lemonade — lemon custard has become the No. 1-selling flavor in the stores this month, Richard said. Because citrus trees produce fruit year-round in San Diego, Richard said she plans to create a rotating variety of seasonal ProduceLove flavors, including tangerine, grapefruit and blood orange. Eventually, she plans to package the ProduceLove desserts in cartons for sale at local stores, like Cardiff Seaside Market.
—Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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