Liza Tedesco is living as a localvore. Originally from Los Angeles, she moved to San Diego to attend school and got involved with cooperative foods movement, something she holds very close to her heart. Traveling up north to Chico to finish her degree in literature, as well as study botany and field biology, Tedesco fell in love with the town, which has kept her here for the past 13 years. Working as the interim general manager for the Chico Natural Foods Cooperative, she keeps herself busy running the member-owned store, building community outreach programs and organizing discussions on cultivating healthy local food systems at Chico State. Living only a few blocks from the co-op, located on the corner of 8th and Main Streets, Tedesco and her 8-year-old daughter, Lauryn, ride their bikes each day to Chico Country Day School. Then it’s off to Chico Natural Foods, where this brazen-haired boss can get down to business.
How long have you been general manager and how did you come by the position?
I have been interim [GM] for almost a year; it’ll be a year in July. I’ve worked at the co-op for about eight years, and I’ve worked many different positions. I was the wellness department manager before this. We had a few recent turnovers, and our last general manger left after being here about three months. He was great but it just didn’t work out, so they asked me to step in. Currently, I’ve interviewed for the position and I would like to be a general manager, but the board of directors hires the manager for the store.
What’s been going on with the store?
We’ve been working hard to refine our business practices. We’ve been training people, educating managers, buyers and staff on solid business practices while still being 100 percent conscious of our environment and social responsibility.
We have been bringing out that triple-bottom-line ethic into our practices. We’ve always done that; I think it is really important.
Have you seen a decline in memberships over the past year?
We changed a few of our membership programs, which I think have built in more memberships. We have a quarterly membership now, like a trial membership, and I think that gives people more security to just give it a try, see how it feels, see if it’s something they’d use.
What is next on the agenda for the store?
That can be answered on so many different levels. Operationally, solidifying a general manager is on the largest scale. We are still hiring for a grocery manager, and then with that hire, we will have our management team set. That does have a huge influence on how the store operates.
Also, our lease is up in a year and a half, so we are looking at what are the community needs and what’s the right thing to do for the store and its members.
Whether we stay here and do some internal remodeling or whether we try to relocate, we still want to try and stay downtown. Those are really big decisions that the board is working on, and we’ve been talking to some local real estate agents just to see what our options are and then we’ll chat with the members to see what their needs are, and we will meld them together.
On a smaller level, we are always trying to build our local vendors, and our produce is something we’ve been really proud of and the trajectory that that’s taken. Last summer at the peak of the season, we had about 45 percent local produce, which is really great. We’ve been working really hard to develop and strengthen the relationships with local growers and it takes a lot of effort because it’s all about seasonality and supply and demand. We try to emphasize fair trade and are always trying new things in the deli.
Do you shop here?
Yes. [laughs] I do, and it’s not just because it’s convenient. I’ve worked in co-ops for a really long time. I started out in San Diego at Ocean Beach People’s [Organic Food Market] and that’s where I literally fell in love with the cooperative structure. Even if I didn’t work here I would shop here because I believe in the principles behind it.