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Farmers Bring Fresh Produce to Families in Need

What do farmers do when restaurants close and the bulk of farmers market-goers stay home?

“We just get scrappy,” says Adriana Silva.

The founder of Tomatero Farm in Watsonville, CA, Silva explains that the latest example of that “scrappiness” has manifested in a partnership with The Edible Schoolyard Project and City of Stockton to bring fresh, local, organic fruits and vegetables to families in need, especially amid school closures. At a time when student meal programs are suspended, grocery stores pose health threats and restaurants continue to shutter by the day, access to (free!) fresh produce is not something people take for granted.

“This pandemic drives home how farming IS essential,” says Silva. “There has never been a time when what we do is more important.”

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs welcomed the Tomatero Farm team, over 100 CSA boxes (community supported agriculture) and large quantities of produce to the urban center this week, as part of a joint initiative with farm-to-table pioneer Chef Alice Waters’ non-profit The Edible Schoolyard to deliver 2,000 pounds of fresh produce each week to residents in need. They will soon return with more seasonal bounties of strawberries, cabbage, kale, broccoli and other spring crops.

That feeling of “usefulness and purposefulness” is what originally drew Silva to farming when she started Tomatero in 2004, at the young age of 21. With restaurant orders gone and individuals’ purchases dropping off, the mission-driven farmer and small business owner is working hard to keep her entire staff employed and ensure fresh food reaches customers, rather than focusing on losses.

Even at the farmers’ markets that are still open -- recognized as an ‘essential business’ by the State of California -- Tomatero booths are completely roped off without any self-serve. While she prefers to let people choose fruits and veggies to their personal liking, that is not a possibility in the current health climate. To that end, the farm has begun filling boxes to meet the needs of this moment.

“Right now, it’s awesome, she says of the pre-packed CSA boxes, “because people need food and the market is rocky.”

Some go out via normal direct-to-consumer channels (a great way to support local farms), others through collaborations with San Francisco restaurants that are seeking to serve customers in new ways, and now hundreds more thanks to innovative partnerships with non-profits to serve food insecure populations.

With schools closed, organizations focused on school food are looking to maintain their commitment to the health and wellbeing of children by purchasing organic goods from local farms and delivering it to families and food banks, like The Edible Schoolyard in Stockton. Others are preparing hot meals with organic ingredients to ensure critical access to nutrition, like Conscious Kitchen continues to do in Marin City, where Tomatero will deliver hundreds of pounds of produce this weekend.

“This is a way that we can all show, ‘We haven’t abandoned you. We’re still here. We’re still doing the work,’” Silva says, noting how both non-profit and business models have shifted rapidly amid the Coronavirus outbreak. “It’s not gonna be perfect, but we will all try to figure out something.” Written for and originally published on Chef Tyler Florence's WolfItDown.com. Full piece here.