SLO Grown Produce

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