Local Produce Options Offer Safe Alternatives for Shoppers

Farm boxes like this weekly offering from Underwood Family Farms, are an option for shoppers who would like to have fresh produce but who are trying to limit contact during the coronavirus epidemic. Each week’s selection is different, but includes fruit, vegetables, and something extra, like the jar of locally sourced honey in the photo. Photos courtesy of Underwood Family Farms

Shoppers seeking fresh produce and staples like eggs and bread have a number of alternative options that may lessen Coronavirus exposure fears.

Farm boxes and farmers markets are emerging as a viable alternative to grocery stores for a variety of supplies. After initial issues over social distancing and sanitation, a number of farmers markets have reopened with new safety precautions.

The Malibu Farmer’s Market was quick to adopt coronavirus precautions and has stayed open throughout the pandemic.

The market takes place on Sunday mornings from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The focus is on produce, but prepared foods like pies and bread have returned on a limited basis. This is a reliable source for fresh fruits and vegetables. Fish, eggs, soups, artisan bread, pastries, handcrafted cheeses, pasta and even fully prepared dinners are also available.

Farmers markets offer a range of fresh produce and prepared food direct from the farmer, or the foodmaker’s kitchen. These are some of the regular offerings at the Malibu Farmers Market, which takes place in the Malibu Civic Center on Sundays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Malibu Farmers Market founder Debra Bianco told the Messenger Mountain News that she is working on adding more products, including cloth masks and laundry soap. She said that delivery service and pickup is also coming soon. “We are ironing out the kinks,” she said. For information and updates on the upcoming delivery and curbside service, visit: https://mfmtogo.square.site/s/shop, or http://cornucopiafoundation.net/farmers-market.

Other local farmers markets include the Westlake Village Farmers Market, Sundays, 10 a.m.-2p.m., 2797 Agoura Rd, Westlake Village, California 91361. (facebook.com/WestlakeVillageFM/), and the Calabasas Farmers Market, Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m., 23504 Calabasas Rd. (facebook.com/CalabasasFM/)

The three Santa Monica farmers markets have been temporarily consolidated into one weekend market on Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. The Wednesday Downtown market will continue to operate with no planned schedule changes, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Both markets continue offering CalFresh/EBT. Patrons are asked to enter the market on 2nd Street, or from Arizona Avenue at Third. (smgov.net/portals/farmersmarket)

Social distancing measures at all farmers markets include wide spacing, hand-washing stations, and traffic cones and tape to guide patrons where to stand. Customers indicate what they wish to purchase, and vendors package it for them. The only point of direct contact is during payment. Masks are required, and all participants—vendors and customers—are requested to observe the six-foot-social distancing requirement at all times.

Topanga residents have a local supply for local fresh produce and bread at Topanga Gourmet. Owner Peter Kagan visits the Santa Monica Farmers Market twice weekly, selecting a carefully curated variety of produce, and he also has a network of small local farms that sell directly to him. 

Kagan recently announced that Gjusta Bakery would be providing fresh-baked artisan bread at the store seven days a week. Topanga Gourmet is located at 120 S Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 90290, (310) 455-4200, (canyongourmet.com)

If one doesn’t mind a drive, there is a farm stand option that combines the selection of a farmers market without the crowds. Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark and Somis offers fully stocked farm stands with a wide range of grown-on-location and locally sourced produce, including eggs and honey.

People at high risk for COVID-19 who would prefer not to take any risks can opt for a weekly farm box that can be delivered or picked up curbside (or in this case farmside). The boxes, priced at $45, aren’t customizable, but customers can preview the week’s offering and decide if it meets their needs. Each box provides a generous mix of fruit and vegetables, usually with an extra treat like honey or a bag of kettle corn.

“We try to include staples and a fun item as well,” Suzannah Underwood told the Messenger Mountain News. “If we do not grow or make these items, we source them locally. The selection changes every week on a Monday. We are not offering customization at this time, but hope to be able to do it very soon.”

Underwood said her family’s farm is developing an online store that will enable customers to order from a menu of items and pick up their order curbside. They will also ship the boxes via FedEx. It’s not inexpensive but it is convenient. Underwood Family Farms also offer fruit and produce gift baskets. All orders must be placed 48 hours before pick up or shipping. 

Throughout the spring,  and depending on availability, both farm stand locations will be selling Tomatomania’s tomato plants, as well as basil and peppers plants—an added inducement for a day trip.

The Ventura Farm Bureau maintains a list of farms and co-ops that offer farm boxes: (farmbureauvc.com/farm-to-table/community-supported-agriculture). In most cases shipping is expensive, but a trip up the coast to stock up on farm goods that can be frozen or shared with friends and neighbors could be an ideal antidote to coronavirus anxiety and cabin fever. 

At least one Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization, The Abundant Table in Oxnard, offers drop-off points in Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village—still a drive, but closer to home: (theabundanttable.org). 

Topanga residents can ask to be added to the waitlist for (earthmatterz.com). This Topanga-based CSA offers delivery and pickup in Topanga and throughout the Westside, but does not deliver to the Malibu or the Santa Monica Mountains communities west of Topanga. 

Kali Star, who created Earth Matterz, said that while she currently has a waitlist, she is giving priority to her Topanga neighbors. 

“I started with a farm stand in Old Canyon years ago,” she said. “This is all about supporting local farms and our local community.” In addition to farm boxes, Earth Matterz delivers Star’s home-style soups. 

For shoppers who need more than produce, a number of full-service grocery chains, including Sprouts and Ralphs, offer third-party delivery through companies like Instacart. That service continues to be hit and miss, and still isn’t available to residents of the more remote corners of the Santa Monica Mountains. 

However, the Messenger was able to find one local grocery store that offers curbside pickup: the Calabasas Erewhon store. The process is simple. Order online, select a pickup appointment—a one hour window—and text the store on arrival. 

On our test run we were not able to get paper products and several staples were out of stock, but most of our order was filled. It’s important to be flexible. The market will try to match the missing items as closely as possible—a different brand of the same item, or a similar fruit or vegetable. It wasn’t perfect, but it gets high marks for being fast, safe, easy, and friendly. Erewhon specializes in locally sourced and organic produce. The store also offers prepared food. For more information: erewhon.storebyweb.com/s/1000-5/.

Having a week’s worth of fresh vegetables, a dozen eggs, or a fresh loaf of bread is amazingly comforting in this unsettled time. When those things are sourced locally it helps keep farmers and small businesses alive, as well.

 

Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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