“My mom was a forager. When we drove around, we were always looking around and trying to point out things we might want. It could be almonds, sour cherries, quince, pomegranate, or anything else that was edible. We would ask people if they could pick the food off their trees. Most people were more than happy to allow us to do it because otherwise it turns out to be a big mess in their yard and they have to clean it up or pay someone to clean it up,” Nasim Hashemi said.
“My parents grew up Iran, but raised my brother and me in Carmel, California. My mom couldn’t find the foods she wanted in stores, but she started finding them out in the neighborhoods. I felt like the only foreigner in town. We celebrated each season and its foods according to Persian culture. Little did I know at the time that this was planting seeds that would later blossom into Freshness Farms.”
Do you wake up each day excited about getting to work?
“Absolutely, but it wasn’t always like that,” Nasim said.
Nasim went to Monterey Peninsula College and then went on to UC Davis and got a degree in mechanical engineering. “It didn’t feel like me, but I did it because I had to do something. I picked it out of the air. But I didn’t know me at the time. I never felt excited or happy about it. I felt disconnected with it. I worked, but I wasn’t even really connected with my work. I was just doing it,” Nasim said.
“In the fall of 2008 I was sitting on a porch at Janet Hedley’s house with a few other moms talking about how sad it was that the state didn’t have enough money for schools. We started talking about all the different fund raisers the schools pushed on our kids. They wanted our kids to sell magazines, gift wrap or cookie dough. The gift wrap is expensive and it can’t be reused or recycled. The cookie dough leads to obesity,” Nasim said.
“Janet had a lot of fruit trees in her yard. She has a garden where she grows lettuce and other things. As we were sitting on her porch and looking around, we talked about the importance of teaching our kids to eat healthy foods. Several of us already belonged to a CSA and we came up with the idea of introducing this as a fund-raiser to the school. It was the ambiance of sitting in Janet’s yard where the idea was born,” Nasim said.
“I took the idea to the principal and the school district. The school agreed to give it a try. My dad knew some farmers in Watsonville so I went down there and talked to some farmers. Many of them were looking for ways to sell their foods. It’s hard for the small farms to be sustainable and compete with factory farms,” Nasim said. “We called our fund-raising venture Local Organic Vegetable Boxes, or LOV Boxes. And that’s how it all got started.”
Is there something from your childhood you’d like to bring back into your life?
“Food is one of our greatest assets in California. We’re paving over our own productive land and outsourcing our food to other countries. Food is something we need for survival. This is copying the trends of technology, but outsourcing our food is much more serious. It’s also messing up our eco-system. This really scares me,” Nasim said. “But I get so excited when I teach kids about food. It was a lot of hard work to get to this point. It was difficult, but I did it. I didn’t realize how much my upbringing was a part of me until I started teaching my own kids.”
“I was just a mom and housewife and all I wanted to do was remodel my home, but the universe didn’t cooperate with me. But being at school and with the kids, the universe has taken me down this road. I’ve come to a point where I go with the flow,” Nasim said.
“We were just doing this with the schools, but I realized that there was so much food in the area. We realized how much land was available. Lots of people had big yards and wanted to do something meaningful with it,” Nasim said.
What do you love to do so much that you could do it every day even if you weren’t paid?
“I love to help people become healthier and more connected to the earth. LOV boxes was a lot of hard work with no return, so people lost interest. After it ended, I thought that I should just let it go, but every time I tried to quit, something just kept pulling me to continue. It was a realization that came to me. I was meant to continue, so I started Freshness Farms. I never thought about being an urban farmer. I always loved fresh food and going out to the garden and picking my own food, but I never thought I’d be running a CSA and doing field trips for kids, and education for companies. I feel very blessed because I feel like I’m following my calling.”
“I encourage Freshness Farms members to think about what they’re eating. I ask them:
- Are you eating earth food or packaged food?
- How many hands did it go through before it got to you?
“I also encourage them to pay attention to whether or not the produce is packaged,” Nasim said.
Today, Freshness Farms has five employees including Nasim. “We’re not just harvesting food and using it. Everyone is paid to do the picking and sorting. We don’t have any volunteers. There’s a tremendous amount of effort and cost to develop the processes to collect, organize and distribute the food,” Nasim said. “We pick produce on trees in people’s yards and we trade this for other food they need. A lot of times when people have trees full of fruit, they can’t eat all to on their own or they get tired of it. We’re sustainable because people want the farm shares.”
“Everything has happened naturally through word of mouth. This has been good because it has allowed us to work out all our kinks. Besides, we don’t have any money for marketing. It’s healthier when things grow at the rate they’re supposed to according to nature. When plants grow too fast artificially through the use of fertilizers, then the food loses nutrients. Factory farms don’t take the time to let the dirt rest either,” Nasim said. “Both dirt and plants need time to soak in minerals.”
“The focus of Freshness Farms to connecting people to foods and their seasons. When you’re connected with the earth, you don’t crave melons or strawberries in the winter. It’s natural to crave these things in the summer when they’re in season,” Nasim said.
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes at Freshness Farms, but we learn and we move on. Our systems have continued to improve over time. Most of our customers are individuals, but now some departments of Apple, Intuit and other companies are buying from us for their employees,” Nasim said. “I don’t believe in artificial growth. It brings people to their knees at the end of the day if they aren’t prepared.”
Would you like to learn to cook without using recipes?
“Freshness Farms isn’t for everyone. Some people need a system or a recipe to create. They have their mind set on particular ingredients. The people who enjoy the farm shares are more flexible and creative. They’re ok with a leafy green. It doesn’t matter if it’s spinach, chard or kale on any particular day. They’re open to substituting ingredients,” Nasim said. Eating in-season foods teaches us to respect the laws of nature. “In life you can plan and plan, but sometimes things don’t work out exactly as you planned. If you’re flexible you can come up with new great combinations,” Nasim said.
“One of the classes I give is cooking without recipes. You can roast or make a stew or a stir fry or rice with vegetables, so you can use any number of things. It does’t matter if it’s a beet or carrot,” Nasim said.
“How much of the earth is made out of water?” Nasim asks her students. “We need to be eating about 70-80% fruits and vegetables. And about 8 out of 10 things we eat should be coming from the earth.”
She also encourages kids to think about their breathing. She teaches them to consciously take in enough oxygen throughout the day. “Many kids are never taught to think about their breathing or how much water they drink,” Nasim said.
“It would be great to replicate urban farming education in other parts of the Valley. Urban farming produces its own eco-system. We really need the sun to be growing our food. Growing indoors is not whole,” Nasim said.
In 2004, Alrie Middlebrook pounded through an asphalt parking lot on Race Street in San Jose and created what is now the Middlebrook Center’s ELSEE Gardens, home to the California Native Garden Foundation. Nasim has a shared vision with Alrie Middlebrook. Both would like to see the community eating what it produces. They envision a raw food local restaurant in cooperation with Middlebrook Center.
In 2011, Nasim Hashemi was voted Silicon Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. “It was a very nice surprise,” Nasim said. “I was in the midst of dealing with all the details of managing a small business. Doing all the picking and working with the kids is very time-consuming, so I never get around to marketing.”
To this day, Nasim still hasn’t remodeled her home. But she still has a monthly girls night out with the core group of friends who started LOV Boxes. Janet Hedley works for the Living Classroom in Los Altos. She helps to build gardens at schools. Two others are teachers. Marina Paraguano is a teacher at Harker High School. Pearl Hall is a teacher at McCall Middle School. Ann Smith started a blog for cooking together with Freshness Farms (five years link). Michelle Westlaken is a Feldenkrais practitioner. She helps people discover ease in movement. The common core among all these women is their love of facilitating learning for children.
“My ultimate dream is to bring wellness to more people by teaching them through food how to maintain better physical and mental well-being,” Nasim says.