Virginia Marum loves food. The fresher, the better. Give her locally raised, organic arugula, kale, beets, goat cheese and a handful of other ingredients, and she’ll make a feast.
“I am in love with her kale salad. The flavors are just amazing, just bursting with flavor, said Laureen Wellravin, a nutritional therapy practitioner in Shell Beach. “It’s funny to talk about kale salad like that, but Virginia really has cooking skills.”
Where many read “aioli” as a mere string of vowels interrupted by a consonant, Marum sees a traditional, garlic-based sauce. While most shoppers stick with known foods like broccoli and apples, avocados and asparagus, she may branch out to include oddballs like choyote and quinoa.
“For me, the passion is to get back to the joyfulness of eating; to remind people that it can not only heal you, it can be a joyful, primal part of our lives,” said Marum, founder of Vert Foods in San Luis Obispo.
Marum’s new company bridges the gap between farmers market and the dinner table. For a growing list of clients spanning the Central Coast, she works with local farmers, including Chaves Farms in Santa Maria, Rutiz Farms in Halcyon, Talley Farms in Arroyo Grande and Two Peas in a Pod in Arroyo Grande, to provide ready-to-eat, nutrient-rich meals of fresh, local, organic finds.
It’s a service that comes in handy for families like the Everetts of Pismo Beach.
“We have a super-busy lifestyle, but we’re committed to eating super-healthy, whole food,” Jennifer Everett said.
She made the switch to eating “whole, good-for-you, healthy, organic food” 18 months ago when her husband, Todd, was diagnosed with cancer. During his final months, she didn’t have time to keep up with his health needs, family life and the specialty shopping and cooking required to maintain the family menu.
“I tried Virginia’s food and it was fantastic and delicious. Price-wise, if you consider the cost of quality ingredients and the convenience, it’s really affordable,” Everett said.
For others, eating such a diet is a matter of climbing a steep learning curve.
“One of the biggest challenges for people interested in farm-to-fork nutrition is learning what to do with the food that shows up at farmers market or in their CSA boxes,” Marum said.
Marum’s keen interest in food was piqued by her personal discovery of the relationship between her eating habits and her health.
After a string of illnesses, visits with countless doctors and experimentation with various health regimens, Marum found nutrient-rich, thoughtfully prepared food to be the only cure.
“In addition to recovering from a variety of illnesses, I suffered from anorexia and bulimia for a long time,” Marum said. “I had such a hate relationship with what I ate. It was always a chore. The irony of it was I loved food. I was obsessed with creating in the kitchen. It was a journey of healing for me to fully connect with food.”
She was well on the road to recovery when she and her husband, Trevor Marum, moved to the Central Coast two years ago. They opened Vert Fitness & Wellness Center in San Luis Obispo where Trevor offers personal training and Virginia provides nutrition education.
“We want to help you get there. We want you to see that it’s not as hard as you think it is,” Trevor said.
They encouraged clients to improve their health and well-being by taking part in community-supported agriculture (CSA). The subscription programs provide clients with weekly deliveries of farm-fresh, seasonal produce from local farms.
“It’s great, healthy, sustainable,” Virginia said.
It also provides a variety well beyond the typical broccoli-carrot-tomato shopping list, which left clients at a loss.
“People steer clear of foods they don’t recognize, but then they miss out on some amazing opportunities to feed their bodies while discovering flavorful foods. Pomelo is one of those. They’re a wonderful citrus fruit, but no one wants to buy them. They just think it looks like a big grapefruit and they don’t know what to do with a fruit that big,” Virginia said.
Clients who found oddball veggies in their CSA delivered kept calling Virginia.
“They didn’t know what to do with this stuff, so I was going to their homes to prepare food for them. One guy looked at me and said, ‘If you give me a box with all this food prepared, I’d pay you for that.’ I realized there’s such a farm-to-fork missing element,” Virginia said.
She sees new food as an adventure.
“We’re hunters and gatherers. We foraged for our food, interacted with our food. By allowing eating to be an interactive, engaging process, if you can roll it, mash it, pick at it, pour it, you and your kids are more likely to eat it. We can reconnect with the relationship that makes eating joyful.”
Virginia would like to see more people enjoying the food they eat, rather than worrying about the calories, genetically modified foods, the number of carbs or additives.
“I see fear every day,” she said. “People are afraid of fat. They’re afraid of carbohydrates, GMOs, chemicals. If we return to fresh, organic, pesticide-free foods, we can enjoy a healthy, balanced diet without feeling like doing harm to ourselves.”
Ultimately, she hopes to open a food hub where farmers can deliver their goods and cooks can rustle up healthy meals. The not-for-profit element of her company would help educate families about nutrition and food preparation while providing affordable, healthy foods.
“It’s a place where like-minded individuals can come discuss the importance of worms, various food-related issues, a place that would empower people to come, grab the food items that interest them, and learn how to prepare them,” Virginia said.
Meanwhile, she’ll deliver.