NEW LEAF COMMUNITY MARKET
AND SUNOL AG PARK
BY PATRICIA HAYSE HALLER
PHOTOS BY CHERYL ANGELINA KOEHLER
Chain supermarkets are not known for local sourcing, but that’s just what’s happening at New Leaf Community Market in Pleasanton. The May 2013 opening of this new store has brought fresh opportunities to nearby farmers, fostering closer relationships between growers, grocer, and consumers, and increasing the visibility of organizations that support sustainable agriculture.
Originating in Santa Cruz as Westside Community Market in 1985, New Leaf has since grown into a small chain that maintains the company’s original trifecta focus on local and organic food, sustainable living, and community giving. The first six stores went into communities stretching northwest to Half Moon Bay, and 2012 saw an eastward push into San Jose. The new 19,000-square-foot store in Pleasanton marks New Leaf’s first foray into Alameda County.
“One of our missions is to support local farms and the local communities and everything that means,” says New Leaf produce director Maroka Kawamura. “That includes the people who are working in the fields, the people driving produce to the stores, the people in the stores, and all of the community that we feed. All of that is creating a community based on locality. We need to focus on things that are within reach.”
In Pleasanton, the growers within easiest reach are at the Sunol Agriculture Park, located just 10 miles south of the new store on 18 acres of land owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The land is leased by the Berkeley-based nonprofit Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), which founded the Ag Park in 2006 as a way to integrate sustainable agriculture, natural resource stewardship, and community education. The park is now home to six small farmers, who share infrastructure, equipment, and information, and pay license fees and water costs.
For New Leaf, all of these assets made the Sunol Ag Park a one-stop shop for connections to a local sustainable agriculture community in an area the company is just getting familiar with.
“New Leaf is not as well known in the East Bay, so there are not as many farmers that know what we do and what our values are,” says Kawamura. “In Santa Cruz, we have relationships that go back 26 years. But in Pleasanton and San Jose, we’re new. As time goes on, I’m sure that there will be many more direct relationships that we create.”
New Leaf turned to CAFF (the Community Alliance with Family Farmers) for introductions to local farmers. The first they met were rookies Aspen Kvicala and Suzanne Allcroft, who were just starting out in the Sunol Ag Park as Foolish Hens Farm. On a visit to Sunol, Kawamura says they connected with more of the Ag Park farmers, and the result has been Ag Park produce as a feature in the new Pleasanton store since the May 15 opening. New Leaf Pleasanton shoppers have been snapping up the organic Seascape and Albion strawberries that Chan Saelee of Iu-Mien Village Farms grows on 2.5 Ag Park acres so quickly that by the end of June they were requiring about two dozen flats each week, according to Chan. The Foolish Hens, who made their first delivery of greens on June 25, said they expected to supply the store with a variety of vegetables and organic cut flowers though the summer. Shawn Seufert of Terra Bella Family Farms started bringing his rare and unusual varieties of eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and melons to the store in July.
Kawamura notes that New Leaf’s work with the Pleasanton community and the Ag Park is in its infancy, but she expects the relationships to develop and grow. For the farmers already working with New Leaf, the relationship has been transformative.
“It relieves some of the uncertainty of finding markets that can take large amounts of peak-season produce,” says Seufert, who also sells at farmers’ markets, to restaurants, and through his 300-member CSA program. “They’ll bring it in and have a big sale and hype it and make things from it in their café. And it’s nice to know there’s someone right here in town that can take large quantities of food. Before we had to drive to Berkeley, Alameda, or Lafayette to get into the smaller groceries.”
For the Foolish Hens, who have been farming their two Ag Park acres for less than a year, the impact is even greater. Kvicala describes how the New Leaf representatives told them the store could purchase the Hens’ entire output. She and Allcroft are looking forward to learning which vegetables and flowers of the many varieties they’ve planted will thrive in Sunol’s conditions, and what New Leaf will want in the coming seasons, so they can plan accordingly.
That kind of communication and mutual planning is what ultimately will make the relationship between New Leaf and the Ag Park farmers successful, says Sibella Kraus, president of SAGE. “Like [in] any relationship, the farmers and buyers are going to have to keep in close touch,” she says.
Horacio Damien, produce manager for the Pleasanton store, says he wants to work with the Ag Park farmers as a group, so they can coordinate and cooperate. “What we want to avoid is having three farms offer zucchini,” he says. “If they all grow the same thing, it’s hard for me to help them.” He wants to focus instead on what each farm seems to do best, like Iu Mein’s strawberries, Terra Bella’s tomatoes and melons, and Foolish Hens Farm’s chard, kale, and flowers.
Damien has plans for extending even deeper the relationship between New Leaf and the farmers, the Ag Park, SAGE, and CAFF. He wants to promote the Ag Park produce and growers via an “Extremely Local” section, tastings, and monthly “Meet Your Farmer” events, and to prominently display the names of farms providing particular items.
“That’s important, because then we’ve got a connection between the community and the farmer,” Damien explains. He adds that freshness and quality are important as well. “If we can order at 5am or 8am and then get, say, two cases of zucchini that have been harvested that same day, then we get more nutritious, more flavorful, better produce. How beautiful is that?” He picks up a basket of strawberries from Iu-Mien and holds them out for inspection. “I mean, look at the shine! That means fresh, and that they don’t have chemicals. They’re some of the best strawberries I’ve had in my life.”
Part and parcel of New Leaf’s culture is that of giving back to the community. The company states that over 10 percent of profits are contributed annually to local nonprofit groups, and they do so through a variety of initiatives, such as “E-Cards,” which support schools, and community sponsorships. Its Envirotoken program for customers reusing bags is designed to specifically support groups working for the environment and sustainable agriculture, such as California Certified Organic Farmers, CAFF, the East Bay Regional Parks’ Regional Parks Foundation, or the Santa Cruz–based Organic Farming Research Foundation.
Seufert, a resident of Pleasanton, sees New Leaf’s arrival as an opportunity not just for farmers but for the city itself. In addition to revitalizing a storefront that stood empty for over 15 years and adding 95 jobs to the local economy, the market is offering residents a whole new grocery store model.
“Pleasanton hasn’t had access to amazing local organic food other than at the farmers’ market once a week,” Seufert says. “New Leaf is committed to educating the public about why they chose the products they carry and where the products came from. It’s a beautiful store, and I know I’m always going to shop there. A lot of our CSA members say they’ve been going there, too. All of our supporters are their supporters. It’s a good fit.” ♣
Patricia is a freelance writer based in Pleasanton. You can contact her at email@example.com.
New Leaf Community Market
3550 Bernal Ave, Pleasanton
Sunol Agricultural Park
505 Paloma Way, Sunol
Contact SAGE: 510.526.1793; sagecenter.org