When restaurants sharply cut back on buying produce, small farmers turned to each other and to an old idea made new: the contactless CSA box.

Romeo Coleman, a second-generation farmer who has 18 acres about 80 miles north of Los Angeles, saw his family’s fortunes rise in lockstep with the city’s restaurants, which have grown since the 1990s at a clip that would humble the current stock market climb. He planted crops with chefs in mind: As far as he knows, Coleman Family Farms is the only local farm to grow celtuce, a member of the lettuce family, originally from China, that is currently one of the popular kids on the culinary block. He sells two kinds of spigarello, (big-leaf and little), an Italian heirloom cousin of broccoli and kale; herbs like South American huacatay; decorative, edible borage flowers that might show up in a salad or encased in an ice cube for a summer cocktail. Lately the restaurant boom had spread up the coast, closer to home, to Ojai and Santa Barbara. More potential customers everywhere he looked.

Restaurants represented 70 to 75 percent of his business, back in January 2020. Within weeks of the March shutdown that number was in free fall, bottoming out at 25 percent of what he was used to making. And, while Romeo credits the market staff with doing what was necessary to make the market safe for both farmers and customers, occupancy restrictions meant “a huge decrease in customer traffic flow.” Amid headlines about farm crises nationwide, about crops plowed under or left to rot in the field, he needed to find new sources of income, fast. Both the family business and an almost 60-year-legacy depended on him.

Read the full article about small farmers during COVID-19 by Karen Stabiner at The Counter.