Tahoe micro farm sees spike in business amid virus

Cheyanne Neuffer
Miko Gastelum grows microgreens in his 60-square-foot shed in South Lake Tahoe.
Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Amid the coronavirus, the food supply chain has been uncertain.

Grocery stores were limiting purchases, shelves were desolate and according to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices dramatically increased in April as the pandemic was in full swing.

More than ever, having the ability to grow your own food or buy from local suppliers has become a way to establish reliance away from corporate stores and an uncertain food chain.

During this unprecedented time, it isn’t a surprise that people are thinking more about food security.

Miko Gastelum has been busy with online orders and home deliveries during the pandemic. He is the founder and owner of Indigenous Farms in South Lake Tahoe.

Gastelum owns a small-scale urban micro-farm that specializes in seasonal vegetables. Their main focus are their year-round, mountain grown microgreens which are nutrient-rich baby vegetables that are eaten like salad greens.

Gastelum began this journey by bringing fresh, locally grown food to the farmers markets. It was at these local markets that he saw the lack of locally grown food.

Gastelum got licensed and regulated to grow in his backyard in South Lake Tahoe and has since been building on this foundation.

While they focus on microgreens, Gastelum also has been working on natural products like a pine resin salve and dehydrated vegetable powders, such as beet powder, which are nutritional and shelf stable.

“I was passionate about growing food on a local level,” Gastelum said. “Whether you’re in Tahoe or even in a place where farming is more prominent, it’s not a common thing to have food grown locally or sold locally. It seems like alot more people are getting on board and becoming more passionate about eating local or growing something in their gardens. It’s kind of getting back to supplying our own food for ourselves.”

This self-reliance on homegrown food is something that really drives Gastelum. He said he enjoys helping people realize that they can grow food in areas that people aren’t necessarily accustomed to growing in such as Lake Tahoe. He said that growing your own food is

helping people get back in touch with a “primal instinct.”

At grocery stores around the lake, empty shelves were prevalent and people started looking more locally when it came to food security.

“What I have seen personally and from our fellow farmer friends and vendors is that we are seeing record numbers that we haven’t seen before,” Gastelum said. “There has been a huge increase in demand in local and freshly grown products so we’ve been busier than ever and it’s been great.”

Indigenous Farms was roughly selling 30-40 trays when they were first starting out and now they are selling hundreds.

When the impacts of the coronavirus first went into effect, Indigenous Farms got hit hard. They have always provided home deliveries to people from South Lake Tahoe all the way down to Folsom, Calif.

“As soon as coronavirus started, people reached out to us and started ordering more through our home delivery and we saw an increase of new customers by word of mouth,” he said. “We saw a giant jump in not only our sales but the production we needed to do.”

Gastelum said the increase across the board for local farmers and ranchers is a good thing, the challenge came from being able to get the food in the hands of the people, which unintentionally rooted back to one of the reasons that Gastelum founded his business in the first place.

Gastelum is a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe from Tucson, Arizona which inspired the name of Indigenous Farms.

“Providing food for our community is what my tribe is known for,” he said.

Members of his tribe were avid farmers in their homeland and provided food for their community during good times and bad times. This communal bond is what Gastelum strived to portray through the business name and plan. Providing food for the community, no matter the situation — that mentality and ode to heritage has become more relevant now than ever.

“For us personally, we want to build a tribe of our community, not just of my tribal members,” Gastelum said. “A tribe to me, is the people you live close to, your neighbors and the people that are in your community.”

Gastelum said he wants to help and inspire people to grow their own food.

“We need more people to be growing food even if it’s a small amount,” he said. “The bottleneck of the coronavirus is that we have plenty of food out there; it’s just getting it into people’s hands quick enough. So we need to produce more food on a local level and inspire our neighbors to grow food.”

Growing your own food and focusing on local products alleviates the dependence on the large food supply chain that have been unstable during the pandemic.

“If we had more people growing food, we could really be doing some good things for our community,” he said

Indigenous Farms has a large following through the community and on social media platforms.

While they still do home deliveries, they are getting ready for the South Lake Tahoe Farmers Market starting June 2.

Indigenous Farms also partners with some local farms around El Dorado County that sell their microgreens and other products.

Follow them at @indigenousfarms on Instagram and on Facebook.

Looking into the future, Gastelum hopes to start doing tours of the farm to show people what they are doing first hand.

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