We’ll kick off Vernon’s fishing vacation absence with a fishing story excerpt from the summer edition of our AHO digital magazine. Those of you weekend delivery folks who have tried the Community Seafood “Catch of the Week” have been singing its praise, and as we continue to work on the logistics of getting fresh fish available to all sites, we do now have some fresh canned tuna from the CS fishermen as an add-on, so everyone has a chance to try it out. Here’s a bit of their story.
In many ways, small fishermen and small farmers live in parallel worlds. Both are characterized by fierce independence, have a willingness to work with their hands, and are full of experience-based, specialized knowledge. Additionally, the world of food production—both land and sea—is highly regulated. Even though it’s tough out there for the little guy competing with large scale commercial operations, artisanal fishermen and small farmers are singing the same shanty song: “It’s in my blood, it’s who I am, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
While CSAs are common place in most parts of the country, the seascape where California’s independent fishermen make their living is like the Wild West of today’s food system and CSFs, community supported fisheries, are still somewhat new. Community Seafood, a community supported fishery out of Santa Barbara, is keeping some California independents afloat.
“We always say Community Seafood is kind of like a fishermen co-op,” said Sarah Rathbone, the founder and director of Community Seafood. “We represent an under-represented group of people who are trying to make a living creating food. We’re really just bringing the fishermen and the people who love to eat seafood closer together and trying to support both sides of the equation.”
Sarah communicates weekly with a group of about 30 to 40 fishermen to coordinate what seafood will be available for shareholders to pick up at farmers markets or through CSAs [including us at AHO!]. The fishermen associated with Community Seafood are all owner-operators of small boats and fish sustainably and responsibly in Southern California waters.
Just like our Abundant Harvest farmers have their specialty crops, these fishermen have a stock they specialize in, whether crabs, cod, halibut, clams, swordfish, anchovies, etc. Each week, Community Seafood will supply all its orders from a single fisherman to make the financial impact of the CSF’s order competitive with a market sale. The fishermen get the benefit of receiving a fair dock price for their catch upon delivery, which might sound like it’s to be expected, but as with farming, fishermen are often waiting weeks or months to be compensated for their catch.
As with all real food situations, the unexpected is to be expected. It was 75 degrees and sunny in the harbor the week we visited Sarah and her fisherman husband Charlie, but unexpected gale force winds at sea had kept many of the CS fishermen grounded. It’s just such an unexpected weather occurrence that can keep Sarah busy changing the order and making calls to find a fisherman who had been able to take his boat out closer to shore. The rush of this last minute scramble is the first item listed on the recipe for any real food delivery service. (We know all about it…)
Though food lovers might not have felt the gale force winds at their urban homes, buying direct from a farm or fishery is a tie to the natural world. Because the weather events and external pressures that influence the availability of your fresh food—whether from land or sea—can’t be controlled, a commitment to purchasing real, responsibly made food direct from a small producer means accepting a certain level of humility. Doing so makes eating a partnership that can be understood, respected, and thoroughly, deliciously enjoyed.