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Q&A: Woodlands Market

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don-santa2.jpg “Local” is a pretty relative term at most supermarkets, but not at Woodlands Market in Kentfield, California, where customers will soon be able to buy fresh food grown a mere mile away from the store. We talked to owner Don Santa recently about his new farm development, his vision, and his ties to the area.

Talk about this farm project of yours — where’d the idea come from and where does it stand now?

I have 20 acres, although we’ll probably only be initially producing on three to five acres of it. We’re still planning it out, laying out the space right now. This is sort of a fusion of victory garden and our own slow food movement where we’re bringing that sort of energy all into one community, and of course putting a local retail flavor in it.

What crops will you grow, and do you have a dollar or quantity estimate for everything?

Whatever’s possible. Everything from heirloom tomatoes to char to squash, artichoke, beets, herbs, basil, you name it. It’s going to be extensive, and there will be seasonal aspects to it as well. We’ll do grapes, peaches, apples, cherries. We have a perfect microclimate for almost anything.

What sort of expertise have you employed to help plan this all out?

Well, my produce guy, who’s been with us for 25 years, is going to do most of this. Then I’ve also got a horticulturalist and people who are helping me design and layout and engineer this who have worked with Alice Waters.

Woodlands really seems to have an identity steeped in community support and outreach. How will this farm be an extension of that?

We’re going to do some cooking classes on the property. We’d also like to get kids involved in tours and educational programs, and as we expand and recreate our model, we will have an indoor/outdoor farmers market concept that can include what we’ve grown, as well what people in the community have grown in their own gardens.

Your store also seems to be really involved in prepared foods. Can you talk about the opportunity right now in that category?

It’s been an enormous category for us. We’ve been doing fresh prepared foods for twenty years. It’s a category of our business the represents about 10% of the square footage in our retail space, but accounts for about 25% of our sales, and up to as much as 50% of our overall profit.

What’s been the key to success there?

It’s all about taste and quality and flavor. We also have a heart healthy line, which is a little more nutritionally disciplined, as well as a new healthy gourmet brand called beautifull food that we just helped launch.

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