WATSONVILLE—About two dozen farmworkers settled in on picnic tables at a Lakeside Organic Gardens field Wednesday for a fresh, healthy lunch featuring the very crops they harvest.
The meal was prepared by Charlie Hong Kong, a Santa Cruz Asian fusion restaurant that was Lakeside’s first restaurant partner more than 20 years ago. For the past six years or so, the two have teamed up to offer the free lunch.
“It’s just so awesome,” said Lakeside’s Operations Manager Juan Gonzales. “It’s a great way to show these people where their hard work is going, and thank them for what they do.”
Carolyn Rudolph, who owns Charlie Hong Kong with her husband Rudy Rudolph, said that the event is special because it draws attention to the importance of Pajaro Valley’s agricultural lands and workers.
“The field, this land … I really feel that it’s sacred,” she said. “We’re feeding the rest of the United States from right here. It’s a privilege and an honor. That’s why I want to highlight it like this.”
Workers were treated to some of Charlie Hong Kong’s signature dishes, including its bestseller, Spicy Dan’s Peanut Delight—featuring eggless wheat noodles, spicy coconut sauce, peanuts, pickled carrots and daikon, and of course a medley of Lakeside produce. They also served up pork rice and kung pao. For dessert, cookies were donated by local bakery Kerri Kreations.
“I thought the meal was perfect,” said Rigoberto Hernandez of Salinas. “I’ve only had food like this once before. It was really good. I am thankful for this lunch.”
The meal was held at Pajaro Ranch, which features 20 acres of chard and kale, as well as iceberg lettuce, broccoli, mixed greens and more that are all grown organically in rotation throughout the year.
Rudolph said that she admired Lakeside owner and farmer Dick Peixoto for his attention to soil health at his fields.
“The soil fields the crop. A lot of people don’t know that the soil is where all the nutrition comes from,” she said. “Especially now with Covid, we know more than ever how important it is to eat healthy.”
Dick Peixoto chops up about 100 pounds of organic veggies every morning, and about a ton of chard alone is used per month. Rudolph said that this is why Lakeside has been an ideal partner.
“They’re the only ones who grow enough to supply us,” she said. “Plus, they deliver, which is a big help.”
Charlie Hong Kong is in the midst of a rebranding. They soon plan to create a new logo, and change their name to Charlie’s Healthy Kitchen, which Rudolph said is to lessen confusion. Many customers think that the business is solely a Chinese restaurant, she said.
Meanwhile, Lakeside is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Peixoto said that in addition to the annual lunch, the company has established a free, year-round “farmers market” at their plant, where workers and their families can pick up organic produce that they harvest to bring home.
“Any way we can support the community, we’re happy to help out,” Peixoto said, “and also say thanks to these hard workers … We hope it inspires them to eat healthier food; it gives them an option.”