Earlier this year, when Esalen temporarily closed its doors to the public during the pandemic, Esalen Farm & Garden stewards still working and living in the community asked the question: “How can we be of support to those close to us?” Inspired by the credo, “may all be fed,” staff devised a strategy for sharing the agricultural bounty that would have overflowed when springtime arrived.
With assistance from Esalen’s Community and Advancement team, Farm Supervisor Chris Omer, Garden Supervisor Flaam Hardy and others reached out to Big Sur residents interested in receiving fresh produce.
“As word spread, we realized there would be high demand,” Chris says. “All in all, we compiled a list of 54 households that would participate in an experimental Community Supported Agriculture program in the midst of a pandemic. We dubbed it FreeSA.”
The result was downright inspiring. Over the last few months on Monday mornings, various Farm & Garden staff took a short drive north and delivered a truckload of vegetables and fruit to the parking lot of Loma Vista Gardens, a staple of the Big Sur coast and home to the popular Big Sur Bakery. They donned masks, ensured proper social distancing and one at a time, dozens of Big Sur residents soon had their bags overflowing with an abundance of free produce grown at Esalen.
“We offered our signature fresh salad greens, kale, chard, collards, lemons, carrots, zucchini and culinary herbs,” Chris says, “but we also included a variety of specialty crops—spring garlic, artichoke, rhubarb, leeks, snap peas, strawberries, radish and a surprising favorite: our sweet hakurei turnips.”
The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People appreciated Esalen leadership in lending their support and resources to the Farm & Garden so we could provide this service free of charge,” Chris shares. “People also expressed gratitude in being able to stay connected to the land, which plays such a powerfully personal role in the Esalen experience. This literally allows people to continue being nourished from the fertility and elements of the land in a very real way.”
The offering also delivered a poignant realization.
“Amidst the uncertainty of these times and the personal challenges we all were facing, the pickup days turned into a time when folks connected with one another,” Chris reflects. “The Farm & Garden crew love knowing that the food we grow will end up in so many kitchens of so many people we love. There is so much time, energy and labor that goes into cultivating a crop—from seedling to harvest.
“There are so many steps to the process that often go unseen—from how we create compost piles and nourish the soil to starting seeds in our greenhouse and caring for the tender shoots. Knowing that this process culminates in people taking this food into their bodies, filling them with health, vitality and happiness, is an amazing process to witness.”
FreeSA will run through mid-July, after 11 weeks of deliveries. At that point, the program will pause; however, Chris notes that the experience may be considered as a kind of trial run for a future CSA in which people pay.