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Local farmers, artisans teaming up to deliver fresh goods

In this file photo from last fall, shopper Trish Watlington pays for fresh strawberries at The La Mesa Certified Farmers' Market. The popular market in the downtown Village area has been shut down to help stop the spread of the coronavirus but its managers, Brian Beevers and Vince Perez, have started an "on-the-go" market for pickup that includes many favorite items that were available on Fridays along La Mesa Boulevard.
(Karen Pearlman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Brian Beevers and Vince Perez, who run La Mesa’s Certified Farmers Market, start ‘on the go’ service

Much to the chagrin of those who enjoy browsing outdoors for fresh foods in San Diego County, some farmers markets have been closed countywide since mid-March because of concerns about community spread of COVID-19.

Two of them, the La Mesa Certified Farmers’ Market in the downtown village and the South Bay Certified Farmers’ Market in Bonita, took the county’s order to heart to limit public gatherings and shut down until the pandemic is over (or more manageable).

But Brian Beevers and Vince Perez, who manage both venues as part of Brian’s Farmers Markets, are trying to close the gap left by the absence of the local farmers and artisans who set up shop on Wednesdays at the Chula Vista Golf Course and on Fridays along La Mesa Boulevard.

So they set up an “On-the-Go Farmers’ Market.” The drive-up, drive-thru farmers market in its first week enticed nearly 150 customers to drive to two different sites to enjoy fresh arugula, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, apples, kohlrabi, avocados and more.

Beevers said he knew there would literally be a market for fresh produce and other best-selling items like baked goods, fresh pasta and specialty soaps.

La Mesa’s farmers market typically drew 2,000 to 3,000 shoppers to the downtown village and the South Bay event, though it had just begun in February, had been steadily building up a legion of fans, Beevers said.

Add to that the anxiety some feel inside grocery stores, where even in the best-case scenario where sanitary conditions exist, germs are passed onto any number of items with dozens of shoppers touching things and putting them back onto shelves or into bins.

East County resident Kristin Kjaero is a cancer survivor who was mostly a casual browser at the La Mesa farmers’ market. But because she said she has concerns about her compromised health, she has shied away from heading into the supermarket and decided to order from “On-the-Go” in its first week.

“It was a great way to get what I needed,” Kjaero said. “It made me feel a lot better about not having to go into a store for some fabulous food. I am so grateful that people are willing to put themselves out there and do this. I will definitely do it again because it is a marvelous way to support people in our community to need produce and to support community agriculture. It’s times like this that make you really appreciate people doing these things for the community.”

While initially farmers’ markets in San Diego County had received authorization to operate as essential service providers - along with grocery stores and other food suppliers - some markets eventually shut down to comply with county limits on public gatherings.

Not wanting to take the chance that people in the markets he oversees could spread the virus so earlier this month, Beevers and Perez thought about the safest way they could deliver local produce and goods without crowds and without fear of spreading the virus.

Given clearance by the county health department and the cities of La Mesa and Chula Vista to set up the pick-up spots, the two reached out to some of their most popular farms and vendors, nearly all of whom were champing at the bit to keep their businesses going.

Beevers and Perez built a website at https://www.onthegofarmersmarket.com which gives information on what is available, including a box of fresh produce from three main farms, and allow for “extras” to be ordered as part of the package.

The two take orders from customers during the week, work with the farmers and vendors, package up the goods and deliver to one of two pick-up spots. At the sites, they check with customers on their orders and once approved, place the pre-boxed items directly into the trunk or back of the vehicle.

South area orders have to be placed by 3 p.m. on Tuesday for a Wednesday pickup time of between 3 and 6 p.m; East area orders have to be placed by 3 p.m. on Thursday for a Friday pickup time of between 3 and 6 p.m.

“While we admittedly haven’t perfected this new idea, and have a few kinks to work out, we still served over 130 drive-thru customers within three hours. By and large the feedback was positive.”


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