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Co-ops offer North Texans a natural food option

Couple's search for healthy meat, seafood leads to co-op

03/25/2013 11:24 PM

04/04/2013 6:49 PM

ARLINGTON -- What started as a decision by Krista and Micah Grant to improve their diet when they were expecting their first child more than three years ago has become a blossoming Arlington-based meat and seafood co-op that draws customers from all over the Metroplex.

Farm to Fork: A Natural Food Co-op, which started in the Grants' garage, now has its own delivery and pickup site at 2001 W. Mayfield Road in west Arlington, as well as drop points in Allen, Oak Cliff and north Fort Worth.

About 550 families have signed up to receive its emails, Krista Grant said last week, and almost 1,200 people interact with its Facebook page.

The co-op, whose slogan is "Real Food for Real People," has developed contacts with North Texas-based producers of Angus, longhorn and bison; free-range and pastured chicken; pork; and Alaskan-caught sockeye salmon, halibut and crab. Locally harvested raw honey and Texas olive oil are also sometimes available.

At Farm to Fork and other North Texas-based co-ops like Urban Acres and Your Health Source, shoppers can buy food not far from where it is produced, which is gentler on the environment and more supportive of local commerce. The meats, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy products are produced without unnatural enhancements, whether they're labeled organic or not.

The Grants evaluate each producer. Beef, for example, must be not just grass-fed but grass-finished, meaning it is never given grain, hormones or antibiotics.

"We ask a lot of questions," Krista Grant said. "We know exactly where the food is coming from."

The Grants also keep a close eye on the safety of the food they sell.

All the food is processed in properly licensed facilities, she said. "They are also all inspected by the state, and this tag of inspection is on all of the packaging. Our seafood has a different set of standards because it comes from out of state, but is similar."

Gaining momentum

Early on, the Grants found that all-natural beef was either hard to find or too expensive at health food stores. Their research led them to local producers like Chisholm Trail Grass-fed Beef that met their criteria.

"The way it really got going was with seafood," Krista Grant said. They found a fisherman willing to truck it straight from Alaska, but only if they ordered at least 1,000 pounds. "I asked my friends to ask their friends," and soon the Grants were helping other families buy groceries, too.

Orders generally rotate monthly between meat and chicken, with seafood and other items available on occasion. Families can order however much they wish; there are no membership fees or requirements for participation.

Farm to Fork has little overhead beyond utilities, thanks to its use of a site on the property of another business that Micah Grant's family owns. But operating it will soon require more time than Krista Grant, a stay-at-home mom with a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old, can squeeze in during nap times and preschool hours.

"We are getting close to the point of needing to hire an employee or two," she said. The Grants also hope to add drop points in Granbury and the Mansfield-Burleson area.

Other area co-ops

Other co-ops that offer locally grown organic produce and grain-based foods include Urban Acres, which runs a market in north Oak Cliff; Austin-based Greenling, which expanded into North Texas last year; and Your Health Source, started 12 years ago by Bedford resident Monica Brown.

Most shipments for Your Health Source, whose motto is "Helping People Transition to a Healthier Diet," arrive at a site in downtown Fort Worth and are delivered across Dallas-Fort Worth and even into Oklahoma, Brown said.

"What got us started was a desire to change our health by changing our diet," she said. "We felt we needed to set a better example for our children and make sure we were characterized by better eating and a healthier lifestyle in general. We were eating out too often and had some nagging health problems. Changing our diet has been one of the best decisions we ever made."

Mom-to-be and Farm to Fork customer Michele Massey lives in north Fort Worth and picks up orders for families in that area so that they don't have to drive into west Arlington. Instead, they just go to her house, which serves as a drop point.

Finding a lasting and preferable source for all-natural meat had been difficult before she discovered the Arlington Meat Co-op, Farm to Fork's original name, she said.

"My husband and I drink raw milk, eat organic when possible and have searched and searched for a consistent source for local, free-range, grass-fed meat," Massey said.

At Farm to Fork, she said, "I typically order every time for any beef and chicken order. I have tried the seafood and loved it, though we don't eat seafood too often in our house."

Because the meat, poultry and seafood are premium products, their prices are higher than at supermarkets. A pound of ground longhorn beef, for example, costs $5.29. A cut-up chicken is $4.89 a pound. Eggs are $5.99 a dozen. A pound of pork breakfast sausage is $8.

Grass-fed longhorn beef can taste different at first, said Chisholm Trail partner Ed Ambrose, but experimenting with how to cook it usually yields delicious results.

The Grants were hooked instantly.

"It was the best tenderloin we had ever had," Krista Grant said.

Patrick M. Walker, 682-232-4674

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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