Farm Fresh

Real Good Fish employees Wilmer Romero, left, and Bryan Serrano, right, put together boxes for shipments while Raul Garcia, center, packages smoked salmon. The community supported fishery has grown during the shutdown, and hired more staff, including fishermen to fillet fish.

When Lisa Husby picks up her weekly delivery of locally grown fruits and vegetables and herbs, she also receives a token to remind her of her late sister.

That’s because the logo of Aromas-based Serendipity Farms was designed by Husby’s sister, Laurie Solon-Husby, who died in December 2018. The logo features a silhouette of a woman in overalls. The wind is blowing her hair back as she marches forth with a shovel over her shoulder and an old-fashioned tobacco pipe between her lips.

“She’s got some attitude,” Husby points out, “which suits my sister’s spirit.”

Husby’s connection to Serendipity Farms is unique, but every one of the farm’s customers can have a personal relationship to the people who grow their food. The proximity of consumer and producer is the basis for community supported agriculture (CSA), an alternative to buying groceries from supermarket chains.

CSAs are not new but they’re gaining traction over the past few months, as the pandemic disrupts supply chains.

Husby subscribed to Serendipity Farms around when Monterey County started to shelter in place. “I had a lot of stress and trepidation about going into grocery stores, especially in the beginning when they weren’t limiting the number of people inside,” Husby says. “It didn’t feel safe to me. With the CSA pickup, I can just be outside and my produce is waiting for me.”

Now a member for a few months, Husby loves getting locally grown items like fava beans, cauliflower and strawberries. “I really like that idea of getting things that are grown close to home and supporting small farmers,” she says.

To offer some anecdotal evidence for rising popularity of CSAs, the Weekly tried to talk to Serendipity Farms’ Jamie Collins, but she was so busy, it didn’t work out. Another CSA, J&P Organics was so overwhelmed with demand that it had to pause deliveries for a week in early June. “We are sorry, we know this time is challenging for all of us,” they wrote in an email to customers, “but we need to let the farm catch up.”

Operating out of a farm in Royal Oaks, Garden Variety Cheese is another CSA that’s seeing an upside during the crisis. “There’s been a surge in people buying locally,” says farmer Rebecca King. Even with some of King’s usual farmers markets down during shelter-in-place, support from the community hasn’t wavered. “It makes me care more about what I am doing when I know who I am going to feed,” King says.

King says CSAs were relatively well prepared for the pandemic. “I have been operating in crisis mode my entire time,” she says. “As a small farmer, I have always been scrambling. This is our moment because we already have those skills. We know how to pivot.”

Perhaps the biggest CSA success story in Monterey County over the past few months does not even have a farm. It has the ocean. Based in Moss Landing, Real Good Fish offers the freshest catch of the day from local fishermen. (They call it a CSF, community supported fishery.)

As the pandemic forced businesses to close, Real Good Fish lost some of its most important customers. The company was feeding employees at the Google campus, for example, but then they were told to work from home. “I didn’t sleep for a week when that happened,” says Jenn Lovewell, the company’s co-owner and Chief Nutrition Officer. Restaurants orders also suddenly ceased.

In what would seem like financial calamity, the company saw opportunity. The model had been to deliver fish and seafood to neighborhood pickup spots in the Monterey Bay, Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay areas. Now, Real Good Fish decided to offer a new service. “We had been wanting to launch a home delivery service,” Lovewell says. “Shelter-in-place got us started.”

The demand for home delivery was larger than anticipated. “We started experiencing growth right away,” she says.

In a matter of months, Real Good Fish expanded from serving Central Coast fish to locals to delivering fish to customers, shipped in boxes with ice packs, in seven states: California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

“It’s the big silver lining of the pandemic,” Lovewell says. “People are exploring these options like never before. There‘s resilience in the community when we can feed each other.”

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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