Produce, the Heart of the Co-op

Do you want to know where your food comes from, when it’s harvested and what’s in it? Join the club. Many Americans have finally started to develop a healthy curiosity about the journey of their food from field to table and have become serious comparison shoppers with lots of questions.

The Natural Foods Co-op has witnessed an uptick in consumer questions about the origins of the fruit, vegetables, and herbs that make their way to Co-op produce coolers. The Co-op happily provides customers with real information about the local origins of the produce they offer. Follow their posted sticker legend to learn about what they mean when they say “local” and “organic.” Know your food. [View more photos below]

From connecting with a range of energized local farmers to introducing in-store living aeroponic produce to planning a bicycle delivery service for groceries and produce, the Natural Foods Co-op keeps it fresh and real, just as they’ve done throughout the past 30 years. In our bountiful Central Coast, a wide variety of produce feeds the kitchens of professional chefs and home cooks who look for local products to get a head start toward good flavor and complexity. The Co-op provides access to local produce six days a week, lending a fresh hand in your kitchen.

Swiss chard seedlings, two weeks old

The Co-op has established a “Farmer of the Month” recognition program which will help consumers put a face to the farmers who provide for their tables. The first local farmer recognized for his energy and vision is Tony Garlow of Big Tony’s Organics who farms 1.5 acres of fields brimming with grade A soil just south of the SLO airport.

A former business school major who was repeatedly invited to join the management fast track, Tony found himself rather disillusioned with the frequent conflict he observed between making money and having integrity in the world of business. Noting the upward trend of organic produce sales and the growing numbers of people “fed up with not knowing what they’re eating,” Tony stepped off the fast track and into the dirt of this quality parcel that, according to some analysts, has some of the finest soil in California. “I’m growing some of the best lettuce in the county,” declares Tony during a tour of his fields filled with mature tomato and chard plants as well as baby lettuces and greens. He strives to provide the freshest produce to his customers. One reason why Big Tony’s greens taste so good is that they are delivered to restaurants and stores such as the Natural Foods Co-op within hours of being picked.

Although he’s only been at farming for one year, his energy and vision for a twenty-first century farming paradigm shift impressed the members of the local chapter of the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) to vote him president of the Central Coast chapter. Tony explains how he wants farmers to become stronger and smarter by working together and by accessing relevant technology tools. “The next generation of farmers has grown up with technology,” he observes, “and they want to use it to make their work more effective, efficient, and profitable.” Tony is one of those farmers leading the way and making connections for his super-fresh produce and commitment to organics. He doesn’t want to work in fields that require the posting of signs with the skull and crossbones for several days after spraying. Yuck.

The crops produced by Big Tony’s Organics reflect both Tony’s Italian heritage (tomatoes, eggplants, and herbs) as well as new crops he’d never heard of before he started farming, like Swiss Chard and Russian Kale. From this farm to his family’s table, he loves chard sautéed in coconut oil with garlic, salt & pepper, and some paprika. He has future plans for a line of sauces and salsas to get further value out of his bright orange heirloom tomatoes as well as an interest in planting medicinal herbs. “You can’t beat what you do with your hands,” confirms this satisfied young farmer with big plans. He also appreciates the cooperative nature of organic farming as opposed to the cutthroat attitude so prevalent in the business world—peace and vegetables.

Big Tony’s Organics supplies the following businesses: Natural Foods Co-op, Roxanne’s Café, Sally Loo’s Wholesome Café, SLO Fresh Market, Broad Street Tavern, and Upper Crust Trattoria.

More info

Big Tony’s Organics

California Certified Organic Farmers

Natural Foods Co-op on Facebook 


More about the Natural Foods Co-op on CCFoodie

baby chard
farmer Tony Garlow
farmer Tony Garlow
organic greens

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