The Eating...Our Words 100: Tiffany Tyler and Aimee Turney of Central City Co-Op

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Photos by Christina Uticone
Aimee Turney (l) and Tiffany Tyler (r) are fueled by a passion for food and community.
Who are they?

Tiffany Tyler has been part of Central City Co-op since 2003, where she started as a member and volunteer; today she is Chair of the Board of Directors, and is the "public face" of Central City Co-Op. Her day job is with an oil and gas company, but she considers herself an evangelist for local and seasonal eating through her work with Central City. As chair she does much of the media work, but Tiffany clarifies, "The co-op is an all-volunteer endeavor, and that means doing whatever needs doing. As chair I'm one of the more recognizable faces, managing the books, doing outreach with farmers and education in area schools." Growing general awareness of good eating practices -- including eating seasonally and organic practices -- is a big part of her mission.

Aimee Turney is Operations Director at Central City, a "jack-of-all-trades" who does what needs doing: dealing with the local farmers who supply product, and keeping the weekly operations of the co-op moving along. "This year I plan to spread out and find more farmers, because the most important thing to me is to have more local produce, as opposed to national distributors because it tastes so much better. I work here about fifteen hours a week--I'm also in charge of paying the bills!" Turney is a jack-of-all-trades outside her responsibilities at the co-op as well, teaching hoop-dance, walking dogs, and being actively involved in local and state politics.

Why do they do it?

Tiffany: "I came to co-op as someone who was looking for food that tasted better. I was brought in by a friend -- I think I was number 74! -- and I was looking for tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes! When I found a place where not only did tomatoes taste like tomatoes, but a lot of other vegetables that I thought didn't taste good actually tasted good, I decided this was an organization I wanted to become more involved with. I took a corporate severance in 2007, and I wanted to do more community-oriented work. I came in as a volunteer, then became the market manager at Discovery Green, and after a transition when our Co-Op chair needed to step away I decided that this was something I really wanted to do. I felt called. It's not only about taste, it's about land practice, it's about sustainability, it's about community support and involvement, local economy -- there are so many pieces; and for us, it's about people. When people come in, we can meet them wherever they are in their food journey -- one of the things we do really well is to meet people where they are, and then help them continue on that journey."

Aimee: "A few years ago I was recovering from major depression. I started here as a volunteer. As I was eating the food -- I was shopping here for four or five months, and then I started volunteering -- a combination of that and being around people really helped accelerate my healing from depression. I was a nutrition major in school, and knew that eating this type of food was going to heal me. I was raised on this type of food--my parents and grandparents had gardens -- so when the opportunity came up to work here, I didn't hesitate at all."

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If not here, where?

Tiffany: "It's interesting because I never thought I would come back here and live long-term. I had a design that I was on a career path that wouldn't bring me back here. Coming back was such a pleasant surprise; the city has so much to offer, and so much to do. Are there other places that we would like to live? Sure! Portland, Seattle -- I would love to live in Chicago but [my husband] Kuff says he'll never shovel snow again! We are very happy here, this is our community, our home. One of the bonuses is that my entire extended family is here."

Aimee: "I love Austin and San Antonio -- I'm not a cold-weather person. It's important for me to be close to the coast. Every Saturday I go to Galveston and run at six in the morning and watch the sun coming up. So I don't know how far away I could get from the Coast -- on the East Coast no farther north than Charleston, on the West Coast no farther north than San Francisco!"

If not this, what?

Tiffany: "I puzzle over the question, because a girl's gotta eat! Where else would I go? I look at my kids and try to lead by example. When we go to the supermarket and look at the produce they ask, 'Is it co-op day yet?'"

Aimee: "I really enjoy this. One of the things that Representative Miles did was to get a bill through the legislature for a pilot program for urban agriculture, but unfortunately there was no funding for it. The idea was to have Texas A&M or Prairie View A&M establish a program here in Houston for urban gardening. I'm also a Master Gardener, and I would like to teach people how to grow produce -- a lot like Urban Harvest does it -- and encourage them to sell their produce.

What's next?

Tiffany: "A year of growth, and hopefully financial stability; we always live on the knife-edge around here! I think we're on the cusp of some really amazing things, being able to grow and do great outreach and education. We have some good partner models, with Travis Elementary, and we would love to do that in different schools to enable children to have easy access to farm produce. Families are probably 60 percent of our customer base. We accept SNAP benefits here, and we want to add WIC; we want to extend our outreach for SNAP clients to allow them to become volunteers and earn credits. We want to create partnerships to help the food insecure. We want to make sure that people who need good food -- especially vulnerable populations, like those in recovery from cancer or other treatments where an additive-free diet is a high priority--we want to make sure they [have access]."

Aimee: "I'll be watching the legislature this session, to see if there is anything to do with urban agriculture and asking my friends to support it and do some organize around it. For [co-op] we are thinking of establishing a non-profit to be part of the co-op and do outreach; I'd like to help with that as much as possible. I will always be involved in some way in grassroots organizing, which was part of my upbringing. Garden, write your legislators, and go to church!"

You can visit Central City Co-op on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Grace Lutheran Church, 2515 Waugh.

The Eating...Our Words 100:

- Ellen Schwartz, Culinary Instructor & Private Chef
- James DeLeon, Certified Sommelier and Craft Beer Nut at Kroger
- Alex Padilla, Executive Chef at Ninfa's on Navigation
- Kevin Strickland, Herder of Cats at gratifi, a.k.a. Ziggy's
- Ron Chen, Owner and "Head Coach" at Rattan Pan-Asian Bistro
- Brock Wagner, Godfather of Craft Beer in Houston and Founder of Saint Arnold Brewery, the Oldest Microbrewery in Texas
- Blanche Kinze, Murray's Cheese Master at Kroger
- Bear Dalton, Wine Buyer & Educator, Spec's
- Sam Ray of Republic National, Houston's Largest Wine Distributor
- Thai Van, Server Extraordinaire at Kata Robata
- Dale Robertson, a Populist Among Wine Writers
- Denman Moody, Author of The Advanced Oenophile
- Benjy Mason, Executive Chef at Down House



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