By Rich Henrich
What happens when a date farmer in Thermal, CA meets with a restaurateur in Palm Springs, CA and they both realize the impact COVID-19 shutdowns have had on their businesses? They do what entrepreneurs do best- they identify a problem and then find a solution. Even in the midst of the uncertainty and tremendous financial losses, the coronavirus shutdowns have caused businesses, organizations, families, and individuals, problems- social, financial, psychological that must be solved. Entrepreneurs are uniquely wired to thrive in times of adversity and often charter new pathways through the fog of unknown challenges in search of a remedy to a problem that should not exist.
Mark Tadros, of Aziz Farms, a second-generation family-run date farm in Thermal, says “Problems exist because there is a solution.” So, when the country, state, and county shutdowns due to coronavirus, sent a ripple effect and closed critical markets and distribution channels, such as the historic L.A. Terminal Market (now 7th Street Produce Market), Tadros no longer had a place to sell his world-class dates. His buyers sold to restaurants and cruise lines and those industries were also shut down. This meant that other farmers were facing the same reality- without a market to sell goods, crops could be lost. The cost of planting seeds, the equipment to farm, and the labor to plant and harvest could collapse a farm without the ability to sell produce and recoup the investment. Tadros recognized that Coachella Valley farmers faced a decision to either “till in” their crops and wait for a better year or risk the expense to harvest and not be able to find buyers for their produce.
Meanwhile, in Palm Springs, restaurateur and owner of TRIO, Tony Marchese, who was honored a couple of years ago by Palm Springs Pride as an influential individual who exemplifies the spirit of equality and opportunity for all, faced the challenges of his own. “We did everything we could to be COVID safe but still had to close (our restaurant) and now are limited to outdoor dining only,” Marchese says he estimates his losses to be 1-2 million from the shutdown. “We’ve gone from 66 staff members to 25 now. It’s hard but it’s what we have to do,” he says with sincerity. In searching for answers to move the business forward, Marchese says his business coach told him he would need to “pivot.” He laughed a little confessing his lack of familiarity with the term. “What’s a pivot?” He knew he would have to find another way to position his knowledge and relationships in the restaurant business to keep afloat.
When Tadros spoke with Tony about the impending doom that faced a green bean farmer on the brink of destroying his crops, Marchese suggested a model similar to a farm he knew about in Virginia that was delivering fresh produce directly to consumers. “He told me I should do it. I liked the idea but told Tony that we should do it together,” says the date farmer. So, East and West united to create www.CVHarvestBox.com, a produce delivery service that sources vegetables and fruits from local Coachella Valley and area farmers. They even helped the bean farmer from going under and started reaching out to other farmers as well. “It really gave me a boost,” exclaims the restaurateur. They are now attracting a steady loyal following as they add 20-50 new customers per week. “The early items we included may have been to exotic for some so we are finding out what people want, working with our farmers as well, and making improvements to our service daily,” says Tadros. The boxes will include special recipes (Mark Tadros is also a chef) on how to prepare the varieties of produce and lookout for a lot more updates to come on their website and through social media.
In addition to uniting the valley with locally grown produce, the duo confesses that they are ardent champions of creating a viable agritourism industry in the Coachella Valley. “Ninety-Five percent of the dates in our country come from this Valley but it’s not easy to schedule a tour of a date farm,” says an impassioned date advocate. The two unlikely partners have found a pathway forward by working together for a common interest to help a community they love to succeed. They believe the CV Harvest Box is just the beginning of a great partnership that is uplifting the farmers and drawing attention to an incredible resource for economic development in the region. Their initiative to solve an immediate problem for farmers has not only created jobs for those who were previously out of work but also will create a long term solution to diversifying tourism.
In the challenging times that so many faces in the wake of COVID-19, Mark Tadros and Tony Marchese are an inspiration to our beloved Valley. We hope you will support local farmers and businesses as we continue to grow and evolve through the pandemic of 2020. For more information on how you can have fresh, locally grown produce delivered to your house, go to www.CVHarvestBox.com and stop by TRIO to enjoy outdoor dining or order no-contact delivery or takeout at www.triopalmsprings.com. Don’t forget, dates are good for you so visit www.yellowdates.com and stay healthy!