WATSONVILLE—Every year Farm Discovery at Live Earth aims to reach thousands of young people to teach them about farming, nutrition and health, environmental literacy and more. The organization is headquartered at Watsonville’s Live Earth Farm, which plants crops in the fall that are eventually harvested for Farm Discovery’s programs in the spring and summer.
But after the outbreak of Covid-19, the majority of those programs were canceled or postponed—leaving the organization worried about what to do with the crops.
“We knew students weren’t going to be coming to the farm any time soon,” said Executive Director of Farm Discovery Jessica Ridgeway. “We realized we needed to distribute [the food] through other means.”
On May 28, Farm Discovery announced the kickoff of new produce distribution. In partnership with Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes, Holy Cross Food Pantry, Encompass Community Services, Esperanza Community Farms and others, the organization hopes to use the produce to help feed the county’s most “vulnerable” populations.
“For people from all walks of life… access to fresh fruits and veggies could be in question,” Ridgeway said. “I think this just goes to show the importance of having a local food system… Having easy access to fresh food right in our community.”
Ridgeway clarified that the crops themselves are grown primarily by Live Earth Farm, with Farm Discovery managing the distribution. She said that the organization was grateful for the the farm’s generosity.
Pajaro Valley Loaves and Fishes was the first organization to reach out to Farm Discovery. The group usually shops in-person at Second Harvest Food Bank—but even the food bank was “hard-up” for fresh produce. Word got around, and soon other organizations reached out. Holy Cross Food Pantry, which had seen a big uptick in people using its program, was looking for a source.
So was Encompass Community Services’ Transition Age Youth (TAY) Program, which provides services for former foster, probation placement and homeless youth. Ridgeway said that TAY was “a perfect fit” for Live Earth Farm’s grab-and-go packages.
“It’s about keeping that fresh, healthy food coming,” Ridgeway said, “to our farmworkers, our families, our seniors… those most in need.”
Farm Discovery is doing what it can to maintain operations on a limited budget. Volunteers have been helping out with harvesting Live Earth’s fields, which remain active and in need of regular upkeep. Ridgeway said that cash donations, which they are still accepting, have also helped.
While the organization will not be holding its annual summer camp, it will be offering a “Summer Farm Care” program for children ages 5-12. Small groups of children from working families have signed up to spend days at the farm during shelter-in-place.
While the future is uncertain, Ridgeway said that she is glad to see Santa Cruz County stepping up in staying healthy.
“Compared to many, we’ve been lucky,” she said. “We’ve been able to keep our small farms and farmers markets going. Our community sees the need and value of local food.”