Sunday, April 5, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 5

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Local growers are coping as restaurants close and social distancing is changing everything


It’s awfully quiet outside. But farmers have not stopped the plows. 

Checking in with our local food growers, many reported a huge increase in CSA boxes and farm stand sales. And local farmers’ markets are seeing increased visitors.

Farmers’ markets in North Santa Barbara County
On March 19, the state issued an executive order telling all Californians to shelter at home, meaning only essential government functions will continue, while essential businesses, such as farmers’ markets, are encouraged to remain open. Market organizers ask the public to practice social distancing, let the farmers’ get your product for you, and stay home if you are sick. Here are the locations and hours of the farmers’ markets near you: Orcutt: Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Clark Avenue and Bradley Road) Santa Maria: Wednesdays from noon to 4 p.m. (Broadway and Main Street) Lompoc: Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m. (Ocean Avenue and I Street)

Kathy McNay, who organizes farmers’ markets in Northern Santa Barbara County, said more people seem to be willing to go to the farmers’ market over a grocery store.

“They’re telling us they feel safer out in the air than in an enclosed market,” McNay said. “The only reason we’re able to operate is the state of California, they’re treating us like a grocery store. And you know, we have our little gloves on and people are keeping their distance, so it’s working.”

California considers the produce and food sold at farmers’ markets to be a necessity, therefore markets aren’t subject to closures like other businesses. As long as people follow the rules—maintaining 6-foot distances from others, washing/sanitizing hands frequently, and not touching their face—going to open air farmers’ markets should be fine. 

McNay has been in the farmers’ market business for 35-plus years and said she is happy to see an increase in customers for local farmers.

Vendors are at Clark and Bradley in Orcutt every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Broadway and Main Street in Santa Maria every Wednesday from noon to 4 p.m., and Ocean and I streets in Lompoc every Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. If you want to see who’s selling at what market, McNay encourages you to just check the market out for yourself.

“We’re just old-school, we just flow,” she said.

Local growers are also flowing, making the necessary adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you think about it, farmers are always reinventing themselves—they either have the weather on their side, or not. 

Jerry Rutiz, owner of Rutiz Family Farms in Arroyo Grande, said it’s been chaotic since the shelter-in-place orders began. He said he sells 95 percent of his organic produce through his food stand on The Pike, serving mostly people who live within a 5-mile radius. He sells to a handful of restaurants such as Ember, Spoon Trade, and Apple Farm, and runs a Friday pickup for CSA box subscribers, which has become more popular recently, especially with seniors. 

“People seemed like they were buying lots of stuff,” Rutiz said. 

Andrea Chavez, of Talley Farms, holds one of their popular farm boxes. Their produce boxes have been in demand since the pandemic, as many local farms have seen increases in subscribers since mid March’s countywide and statewide shelter-in-place announcements.

In addition to his produce, people can also buy See Canyon fruit, bakery bread, and locally ranched beef, chicken, and pork at his stand.

To keep cross contamination from happening, Rutiz said he eliminated self-service, placing all his produce behind a table. One of his staff, in gloves, was taking orders and packing the veggies in a box for the customer, while the money station was manned by another staff person. Rutiz has always only taken cash or check, but he cut the coins out of the equation when he heard that coins carry more germs than bills.   

Rutiz said his biggest worry right now is health. The 63-year-old farmer said he checks in with his staff regularly to see if they are feeling OK. 

“If they’re at a point when they start getting sick … we will stop. We can’t do anything … and if that time comes, then there’s nothing that we can do,” he said. 

Rutiz mentioned one of his blueberry partners had to stop delivering because his workers had to stay home with their kids, who need supervision at home due to school closures. 

At Talley Farms in Arroyo Grande, Box Program Manager Andrea Chavez has been seeing a spike in the number of customers who signed up for their farm box program. She said that as of the week of March 16, people were still signing up. 

“We’re seeing a big increase in older customers wanting boxes delivered to their home versus picking up at one of our 70 pickup locations,” Chavez said. “The wholesale side of our farm is business as usual, with some of our older office employees working from home. Our sales to food service accounts are slower, but sales to our retail accounts are strong.” 

Talley Farms Fresh Harvest CSA farm-share program offers a variety of seasonal fresh fruits and veggies delivered weekly, biweekly, and monthly to pickup locations in SLO and Northern Santa Barbara counties.

Chavez said their packing crew started at 6 a.m. rather than 6:30 a.m., and they’ve been using more trucks to make home deliveries. Some of their pickup locations have changed, as gyms and other businesses close, so customers are being notified by email.  

Chavez said people are buying their produce all at once right now, noting that grocery store produce shelves are light in supplies as more people are cooking at home and “perhaps realizing they need to eat healthier.” 

Finley Farms in Santa Ynez is giving $25 farm boxes a try. Pay by Tuesday and pick up a box on Thursday. Boxes for the week of March 30 had lettuce, celery, broccolini, kale, arugula, fennel, celery root, and spinach. According to Facebook posts from the farm, they are currently taking it day by day, but for the moment, Finley’s farm stand is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1702 N. Refugio Road. Visit the farm on Facebook for more information. 

Dare 2 Dream Farms in Lompoc is currently sold out of its CSA boxes, but it’s working to open up a couple of more spaces. The farm stand is open from 10 a.m. to dusk every day except for Monday, at 890 LaSalle Canyon Road in Lompoc. Local honey, mushrooms from Wolfe Family Farms, and supplemental veggies from Tutti Frutti Farms will be on hand. And, those farm-fresh eggs that usually make a trek to far away places are going to stay put in Lompoc. They will be stocked up as often as Dare 2 Dream’s little chickens can lay them, but supplies are limited.

Bautista Family Farms is also offering up a grab-and-go pre-made produce box from its stand in Arroyo Grande. Each box, $20, can be picked up Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. 

Contributing writer Beth Giuffre is supporting her local farmers right now. Editor Camillia Lanham contributed to this article. Send COVID-19 food ideas to

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