Indigo Farms’ mobile fish market allows social distancing while providing fresh seafood

In the parking lot of Blacksburg’s Plaza One, Susan Handy, left, dips into a cooler to help fill an order while Julee Brown is ready to take payment.  Inside the truck, Theresa Nester and Joe Brown gather more items for a waiting customer.

By Pat Brown
Contributing Writer

When social distancing is your goal, it doesn’t get any better than open-air shopping, and that’s exactly what is keeping Indigo Farms Seafood’s expanded staff busy these days.

Of the six stops the staff makes in their refrigerated truck, the lines are the longest on Thursday mornings at Plaza One, which is just off South Main in Blacksburg on Country Club Drive. They go to the YMCA parking lot on North Main in the afternoon. Friday mornings they make a stop at Harvest Moon in Floyd, and then it’s on to New River Fitness/Radford Liquor store parking lot before a stop at the Riner Food Center in the afternoon. Saturday mornings they sell again at Harvest Moon.

As unlikely as it may seem in the era of coronavirus, Indigo Farms Seafood’s individual customer business has picked up even though the restaurants and catering companies they supplied before the pandemic are temporarily closed or doing only take-out business. Those big customers are located from Mountain Lake to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Longtime customers know what to expect. The two founders, Theresa Nester and Susan Handy, started Indigo Farms in 1993. They hauled fresh seafood from North Carolina seafood suppliers back to the mountains. “Our customers don’t want to settle for lower quality seafood,” Handy said this week

Lately the two partners had an eye on retirement and recruited a niece and nephew of Nester’s to take over the business. “The transition has been going well,” said Handy. “But we can’t plan any parties or trips right now” because of the pandemic.

The younger workers are both originally from North Carolina and are sister and brother Julee and Joe Brown. They have already taken over the long drive to the shore and back.

One of the biggest challenges that has grown out of the pandemic is the numerous online orders people are making through the company’s website: Julee Brown has taken the lead on emails and online orders.

“All four of us were working until 10 p.m.,” Handy said recently about Wednesday night. “And the kids were back at it before 6 a.m. Anybody else would’ve walked out the door.”

At some sites shoppers can drive up for orders, so the team has to help with traffic control. “And we have to make sure our customers don’t get in the way of their customers,” Handy said.

The takeover of Indigo Farms by the next generation has been in the works for about two years,

Handy said. Julee Brown got some early experience subbing on the truck even before she relocated from the North Carolina shore to the New River Valley. Joe Brown, who moved here from Richmond, is becoming the face shoppers expect to see on the truck.

Handy spoke of the firm’s catering and restaurant owners with fondness. “I miss talking to my chefs,” she said. She also pointed out that the usual large orders for graduation and Mother’s Day celebrations were lost in the wake of the pandemic.

“Last week it seemed like this whole corona virus was wearing on everybody. People are impatient, ready to get back to normal,” Handy said.

For now, though, seafood lovers can still find some fresh seafood locally. They just have to chase the Indigo Farms truck down as it makes its run and place an order.

And maybe soon there can be that postponed retirement celebration.