To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic altered lives worldwide and muddied many possibilities for diving into a new decade with a bounty of enthusiasm. Despite all of that, one local date farmer and a prominent restauranteur managed to plant some creative seeds for a fruitful venture.
Mark Tadros, president of Aziz Farms, and Tony Marchese, owner of Trio Restaurant and co-owner of AC3 Restaurant + Bar, were having a casual conversation during the height of the pandemic when they realized that between shelter-in-place measures and businesses screeching to a sudden halt, local farmers must have an abundance of produce.
Another stellar thought followed: What if they joined forces and reached out — not just to the farmers but to Coachella Valley residents as well.
The birth of CV Harvest Box followed.
“I think it’s something that we definitely needed out here,” Tadros says. “The farmers out here were taking a beating like I was and we realized that food service is very impactful to the farming community because a lot of fresh produce goes to restaurants, whether it’s lettuce and tomatoes for hamburgers or something like eggplant going into Chinese and Italian restaurants. The lack of those sales was really impacting our farming community.”
“We thought this would be a great service during social distancing — keeping people out of the stores and safe,” Marchese adds. “I did a little survey in my database and 80 percent of the people said they would pay for produce and two weeks later, CV Harvest box was born and now we have more than 200 deliveries a week.”
To that end, CV Harvest Box sources products that are only grown in the Coachella Valley. The produce in the boxes changes weekly, depending on what is available and fresh. Recipes are also offered in the box.
“We’re testing out everything and people are very vocal about what they like and don’t like,” Marchese says. “It’s a surprise every week. I tell people that it’s like a birthday surprise when they get their box of produce because the contents alter.”
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY CV HARVEST BOX
A sampling of what you can receive at your home.
Individuals can order a harvest box one time, weekly, once a month, twice a month or any combination in between without having to sign a contract. Tadros and Marchese’s team delivers boxes right to your door. “It’s like Ding Dong Ditch when you were a kid,” Marchese jokes. “We drop off the box, ring the doorbell, and leave.”
Summer produce for the harvest box may include some of the following items: green beans, okra, summer squash, radishes, bell peppers, tomatoes, melons, berries and more. Fresh bread from a local baker has also been added into the mix.
Tadros and Marchese know the food business all too well. Tadros was born and raised in the Coachella Valley and his family has owned Aziz Date Farm for more than 30 years. Marchese, who has lived in Palm springs since 2005, is co-producer of the Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival.
Tadros adds that CV Harvest Box has been able to be impactful by going to farms to procure produce from them at very fair prices.
“What I hope to continue doing is putting a spotlight on how vast our farming community is here in Coachella Valley,” Tadros says. “In a recent Harvest Box, we put in shishito peppers — in another it was seedless grapes. It’s crazy to think that it’s that broad of a spectrum here — from this really exotic chili pepper to grapes grown right here in the Valley.”
Will the venture continue beyond shelter-in-place as local businesses continue to reopen? Absolutely.
“Nobody’s life is going to be the same after this [pandemic],” Marchese says. “It may take a long time before people start going out like they used to. We want to continue doing this.”
Tadros sees other values in the endeavor. “It’s important for us to have the farms have at least a small sense of security so that they know they have a consistent purchaser buying the produce at a price they think is fair,” he says. “We’re telling the farms: go ahead and make that fair price and we’ll pay it.”
“It’s a surprise every week. I tell people that it’s like a birthday surprise when they get their box of produce because the contents alter.”
— Tony Marchese
In between, deeper life lessons are being learned.
“I’ve found that farming is one of those things that is completely unpredictable. It’s given me a focus on the ‘now’ — today,” Tadros reflects. “I can’t try to forecast what is going to happen in the future. It’s one of the things that has made a transition from something like date packing to a produce delivery system. It’s made me more hyper aware of trying new things and thinking outside of the box and focusing on the now.”
He also sees greater possibilities blossoming.
“I’d like to see us pivot further with this,” he says. “When you go to Napa, you can go on tours all day long. Here in Coachella Valley, there is no agritourism where people have an opportunity to see farms and interact with them. With CV Harvest Box, we’d love to gather people and take them on a farm tour. People don’t realize how much they trust those who are involved with interacting with their food — or how important that is — until they have a chance to interact with them and the land itself. I think that would be a valuable service to Coachella Valley.”
Learn more about CV Harvest Box at cvharvestbox.com.