Flexibility and determination are two necessary strengths of a farmer, at least we learned they are for Arroyo Grande farmer Philip Langston and wife Nancy of SLO Grown Produce. Last month a storm took them out of operation for 5 days. For a hydroponics system, that means crops dry out and die and the only option is to start all over. It’s this hopeful and resilient spirit that has kept SLO Grown rooted in the SLO County farming industry since 1991.
A crop science graduate of Cal Poly, Philip’s work has always been in controlled environmental farming. He managed a green house for some time after college before he and Nancy started to research their own operation. With some helpful direction from Score (Business Mentoring) and a sweet dose of serendipity, they were very much guided to the land they occupy in rural AG. One can tell Nancy loves to tell the story of how they started out. Born from a desire to spend their days in each other’s company, they put a classified ad in the local paper. Wanted: land to lease long-term for a greenhouse, must be near the coast. “We asked God to please send us a nice family,” recalls Nancy.
Sure enough, the Smith family answered their call. Mrs. Smith said she had never known her husband to read the wants ads except for that one Sunday. Mr. Smith invited Philip and Nancy out to the ranch, where cattle were raised at the time. A former PT Boat Captain in World War 2 and football coach, Mr. Smith came across as a tough and honest man. Nancy had a good feeling about him and their first five-year lease was sealed with a handshake. The Smiths have been family ever since.
The SLO Grown hydroponic greenhouse took a year to build and was erected solely by Philip and Nancy, and a few friends who came to help on the weekends. They created a game to see how fast they could put a truss together and after 9 months of building trusses every day they reached their fastest time of 20 minutes. Nancy even did all of the electrical wiring. The only thing they didn’t do themselves was install the high-pressure gas line.
The greenhouse is fully run by the hydroponic system. Water runs through a structure of connected tubes, gets filtered and then goes back into the system. The plants sit in little holes and the roots grow inside the tube. Water runs for 15 minutes every hour in the super efficient system. The only water loss is what the plants use and the fertilizer stays inside the plant.
Since we visited soon after their product loss from the storm we got to see production working double time in the various stages of growth. There’s a nursery area with the starts. It takes 2-3 weeks on the bench before they are ready to go into production and then another few months of growing time. Philip and Nancy gave us a tour to showcase their multiple varieties of basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, eggplant and green beans. They even have a 4-acre olive orchard (all Tuscan varieties), which they press to produce their private label oil, Lone Oak Olive Oil.
Most impressive are their organic and sustainable farming methods. They control crop-damaging pests with Lady Bugs, predatory wasps and midges. Philip’s other calling in life was to be a botanist but Nancy says he could have just as easily been an entomologist with his vast knowledge of bugs. When the plants are transferred to soil they are grown in a media called Coir: ground coconut husks. Philip says it’s a neutral media, so it doesn’t have any biological affect on the plants. It’s also renewable and compostable as its final resting place at SLO Grown is around the olive trees.
In the last couple of years Nancy has had to focus on her health and says she misses going to market and connecting with the community. The market is where they connect with local chefs and find out what is needed. Staying flexible and productive is a fine balance, as they shoot for big production with little overage. Our produce buyer finds Philip at the weekly markets but he also makes deliveries as needed to local restaurants that include Big Sky, Sally Loo’s, Honeymoon Café, and Ember.
To try their fresh and organic produce or award-winning olive oil you can find SLO Grown Produce at the following markets:
Baywood on Monday
Smart & Final in Arroyo Grande on Wednesday
Morro Bay on Thursday
Madonna Plaza in SLO on Saturday morning
Village of Arroyo Grande on Saturday afternoon
Discover more about SLO Grown Produce by visiting their website: http://www.slogrownproduce.farm
Supporting our community’s food economy has always been the foundation and heart of Novo Restaurant. That means not only do we plate the highest quality farm-fresh ingredients, but we are helping to sustain local food growers and purveyors. Without these efforts from the community at large farmers’ markets would dwindle and local farms would find it harder and harder to thrive. Thanks to Slow Money SLO further efforts are hard at work to support our region’s food scene.
Founder Jeff Wade began Slow Money SLO in 2012, inspired by author Woody Tasch (Slow Money: investing as if food, farms and fertility matter). They provide coaching, networking and support for small, local food and farm businesses. Slow Money SLO is also a connector and facilitator of peer-to-peer lending. Small business lending is risky, but there are many benefits beyond the financial return and higher risk is often something folks are willing to endure for the greater rewards. These include, knowing where your money is invested; the satisfaction of buying a local product that you helped to support; introducing friends to a local product that you have supported and seeing their business grow; also the enjoyment of seeing the excitement of a food entrepreneur as they see their vision come to fruition.
On December 1st manager AJ Fewell celebrated his two-year anniversary at Novo Restaurant and as a SLO resident! Originally born and raised in Cape May, New Jersey, AJ always loved California for it’s great weather, beautiful terrain and coastal features. When he had the opportunity to move west he jumped on it and never looked back. He says moving to SLO was the best decision and every step of the way his transition has been graced with ease and lots of luck.
AJ has always worked in the service industry. He got his start as a dishwasher at fourteen years old and quickly worked his way up to serving. He affectionately recounts being groomed by inspiring managers who took the opportunity to not just tell him how to do his job, but gave him a rich education in food & beverage pairings, spirits and the elements of genuine customer service. His career expanded into bartending, managing and eventually fine-dining. He moved to Philadelphia to work at a fine dining establishment called R2L, on the 37th floor of a downtown high rise. The servers wore tuxedos and white gloves when polishing the stemware. Along the way he picked up and resonated with the (Four Seasons) slogan, “We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.”
AJ shines in the arena of customer service and loves teaching and coaching his staff whenever possible. His management style reflects the past training he received, as he desires to guide servers rather than discipline. He encourages mindfulness in how we speak to our guests, being personable, smiling and taking the utmost care to ensure the contentment of Novo guests. AJ certainly has that special spark that is infectious among staff and guests alike!
When not at Novo you will most likely find AJ immersed in his other passion, yoga, and biking, hiking or soaking up the sun on a coastal beach. He says he feels lucky to have found a home in SLO with Novo and an amazingly supportive community of friends that share so many of his joys and passions. #NowYouNovo
Autumn is here! While it might not always feel like autumn on the central coast, you can still cool off with a Pumpkin Spice Float in our wonderful lounge or out on the creekside patio. Combining fall flavors with Crown Royal blended whiskey and Bailey’s Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream creates a Fall delicacy sure to delight your taste buds. Topped off with Hank’s Gourmet Root Beer, this libation harks back to the soda fountain favorites of yesterday while showing off the oh-so-popular trends of today.
1 oz Crown Royal
1.5 oz Bailey’s Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream
.5 oz Vanilla Puree
1 bottle Hank’s Gourmet Root Beer
Combine Crown Royal, Bailey’s and Vanilla Puree with ice in shaker. Shake well and pour into Collins Glass. Fill generously with Hank’s Gourmet Root Beer and enjoy!
Ian Holland, Novo’s Kitchen Manager, grew up in Atascadero and moved to San Luis Obispo during high school. He quickly fell in love with cooking while working at various establishments, such as Firestone Grill and Big Sky Cafe. Though his appreciation for good cooking was established in his early years by watching his grandparents cook for the family. Ian’s grandfather was an avid hunter and fisherman and his grandmother turn wild game and seafood into incredible meals.
Ian was working at Big Sky when Novo first opened in 2003. He fell in love with “Mr. Robin’s” attention to detail and passion for quality ingredients. Soon after he came onboard as a nighttime sauté cook. Ian was with Novo for many years before pursuing other opportunities for a time. In February 2016, he returned to the team with more enthusiasm than ever. He learned everyone was their own way of doing things but he says “Mr. Robin” just does it better. Additionally, Ian enjoys working with Chef Ben and says, “Chef Ben is extremely professional in his approach but also compassionate and hands-on with his crew.”
If he had to pick a favorite, Ian finds a lot of enjoyment and excitement in cooking Latin cuisine. As a young man he fondly remembers spending time with family friends in Oaxaca, Mexico and learning that style of cooking. He has adventurously explored cuisine styles of different regions in Mexico and even central and southern parts of the US.
When not on the Novo line, Ian enjoys hiking and road biking on the various trails of the Central Coast with his dog and girlfriend. #nowyounovo