Sally Coverdell isn’t afraid of hard work. As the owner and manager of Blue Sky Farms in Half Moon Bay, CA, she gets up at 3 a.m. at to start baking for the breakfast rush at her café, tends the plants in the adjacent nursery, and even closes up shop each evening. We were fortunate enough to spend an hour with Sally to hear what motivates her and what sets her business apart.
Making Local Connections
Sally greeted us as she walked into her café with a handful of eggs. The eggs came from nearby Pastorino Farms. As a sign explains, she sources food that is “…sustainably grown, locally produced, natural and organic when possible.” We also noticed she accented the cheerful, sunny interior with a custom Jeff Clark surfboard that was designed just across town.
Sally takes a local approach with her customers, saying that while sales to tourists are important, her business “needs local support to get through the winter.” She keeps customers coming back to this convenient location alongside coastal Highway 1 by serving healthy food in moderately-sized portions, enabling her to charge less than many of her competitors.
Testing New Approaches
Sally started her business with a big project. First she and her husband Ken, who runs a related landscape architect business, bought a plot of land where they decided to build the café and nursery. During construction they expanded their scope, figuring that adding a full kitchen to the café would help the property’s potential resale value. The café opened with breakfast and lunch service, but Sally stopped serving lunch when it didn’t provide the expected return, demonstrating her ability to adjust course when conditions require. Still, she continues to serve breakfast to broaden the appeal of her nursery.
When I asked what set her business apart, Sally explained, “Not many nurseries have the same selection of native plants.” That’s a relatively recent change for her business, as less than three years ago she sold plants that might have been more typical in New England. She gave us a tour of her nursery, explaining how various native plants should be paired with local climates. Since I don’t have a green thumb myself, I noted the Native Mow-Free grass that she said only needs to be cut twice per year and has survived with little supplemental watering. She also sells native coffee plants. (The beans don’t lend themselves to brewing, but I still thought it was intriguing to learn coffee plants could grow in California.) Sally’s customers certainly see the value in her native plants, with some coming from over the hill in Palo Alto or even more distant Alameda County to buy.
Doing What You Love
We could clearly see the amount of thought and enthusiasm Sally brought to her business as she told us about the variety of plants in her nursery, the permeable concrete driveway that feeds rainwater into an aquifer she taps to water her plants, the solar panels on her café, and even the compost bins where she converts plant clippings, coffee grounds, and egg shells into plant food. Sally studied Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis, and is visibly enthusiastic about doing work that has been a lifelong interest.
Read on for more stories from our business visits in Half Moon Bay.