Fowl on the range in Watsonville
Sarah and Aurelio Lopez of Surfside Chickens share the love with their free-ranging friends.
Photographs by Rachael Olmstead
In 2008, Sarah Lopez and two friends decided they wanted to see what it was like to raise chickens. To start, they placed a brooder on their back patio in downtown Capitola. Before long, their chickens began to wander, preferring to forage on the neighboring lands of Freewheelin’ Farm in Santa Cruz.
Lopez’s friends believed the poultry-raising experiment provided valuable lessons, but Lopez saw a business opportunity. She and her husband Aurelio rented an acre of pastureland in Watsonville and moved into a converted room above the barn. One year later, they were raising and selling “pastured” chickens and eggs under the business name Surfside Chickens.
“It feels so real to be producing food,” Lopez says. “It’s rewarding to realize that we are able to give people the one thing that can’t be bought in a grocery store, which is a real connection to their food.”
Managing a chicken farm is not without its challenges. In addition to contending with predators like bobcats and neighboring dogs, Lopez has learned the hard way that farming is also a business.
“We’ve had a real crash course in creating and running a small business. One huge lesson has been just how different a small, pastured chicken farm is from even the organic, free-range supermarket products. We can’t even cover our costs at the prices you see in the grocery store… [We face] the real costs of raising food in a non-industrial way,” she says.
To help make ends meet, Lopez holds on to her day job managing a water quality monitoring program, while Aurelio takes care of the farm. “We have had to call upon every skill we have ever learned, and every resource—mental, physical, and emotional. This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most satisfying work I have ever done,” Lopez says.
Today, Surfside’s chickens roam free on eight acres. Lopez says this benefits the chickens and also those who consume their eggs. When chickens forage on grass, bugs, spiders, and even frogs and mice, their eggs’ yolks turn “a deep yellow or orange. They are firmer and have a richer flavor,” Lopez says. “When you see someone advertising an all-vegetarian diet on an egg carton in the store, that’s actually a very unnatural condition for a chicken.”
Surfside Chickens’ eggs and chickens can be purchased at the Sunnyvale Farmers’ Market, the Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market, and the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market. Membership shares are also available in Surfside Chickens’ CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Members receive whole, fresh chickens and/or eggs weekly from April through November. For more information, visit www.surfsidechickens.com or call .