“We just added another acre of capacity.”
“My husband is a meat guy, and this month we went for nine days without eating meat.” Melissa and her two boys, who look about seven and nine, are waiting at the Olivewood Gardens produce stand on a Thursday morning in May. “We had chicken, but my husband’s like, ‘I need meat,’ ” Melissa said. Over the past four years she has lost 60 pounds on a vegetable-heavy diet. One of her sons likes to try new fruits. They brought a crate of lemons from their backyard tree to share with everyone at the produce stand.
Behind closed gates, workers are hurrying to bag fresh fruits and veggies, harvested on site earlier that day. The line stretches for more than a block through the historic neighborhood of National City where Olivewood has its mini farm and learning center in an old Victorian house.
Tomato seedlings for people to take and grow at home.
The Thursday morning produce stand is a regular event that has exploded in popularity since the onset of Covid-19. By word of mouth, demand has increased more than tenfold — from 40 families per month to 450.
On 1.5-2 productive acres of its 7.85-acre facility, a staff of six Olivewood gardeners has been busy planting and harvesting extra crops. “We just added another acre of capacity,” said executive director Jen Nation. “We’re adding another greenhouse so we can increase the amount of seeds we can sprout and transplant.”
Melissa and her family brought a crate of lemons from their backyard tree.
Olivewood staff shifted priority from using the food they grow for their educational programs to bagging it up and giving it away. And they shifted land use, too. “Where we were growing flowers now we’re growing food,” said Nation. In normal times, Olivewood grows food for National School District. When schools closed they had a huge crop of sugar snap peas intended for the cafeteria salad bar.
“For weeks everyone got a bag of peas,” Jen said.
Today Melissa and her family will take home a selection of oranges, pomelos, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, loquats, cilantro, scallions, and Swiss chard. Coming later in the season: peaches, apricots, pineapple guava, tomatoes, squash, and eggplant. Earlier this year they had tomatillos, pole beans, and peppers. All the fruits and vegetables at the produce stand are grown—mostly from seed—at Olivewood. Since March they’ve given away 1,900 pounds of produce.
Mixed in with the fresh stuff are some dry goods that Olivewood purchases from Sprouts Eastlake Chula/Vista (with donations). Waterwise Gardener and Healthy Day Partners pitched in to provide seedlings for people to take and grow at home. This week: in-season tomato plants.