When it comes to DC women in food, one in particular has been pioneering the way for us all the past two decades, Lisa Zechiel from the Washington’s Green Grocer. We were fortunate to meet Lisa the way we’ve met many of our dear friends -- through social media! Over the previous year and half, we’ve not-so-quietly fallen in love with Lisa’s beautiful food photography, culinary creations, and overall spirit. She’s quite the lady to know and we’re very lucky to call her a Greenheart friend. We recently asked Lisa to be a part of our Woman Crush Wednesday series to talk about the ins and outs of DC’s favorite farm to doorstep delivery service.
Q+A with Lisa from Washington’s Green Grocer
Q | Tell us a little bit about yourself and Green Grocer.
A. Hi! I’m Lisa, owner of Washington’s Green Grocer, the mid-Atlantic’s original farm to doorstep delivery service. We started our business in 1994!
Q | What was the inspiration and intention behind Green Grocer? What made you and Zeke jump in?
A. When I originally came to DC it was to be on the opening team of a restaurant. I’m a born and raised California girl so it was shocking to say the least to see the produce section at my Dupont Circle grocery store. Really?? That is what’s for sale as fresh produce?! I fell in love with the bounty of California produce at a very early age, so I couldn’t believe that there weren’t more options. There weren’t any farmers markets in the area either...our friends at FRESHFARM were just getting hatching their plan too! I knew if I could source fresh produce from local farmers and delivery it right to people’s doorsteps that I could have myself a little business. I met Zeke shortly after formulating my idea and he was on board. We met, got married, and started WGG in the same year!
Q | What does a typical day for DC’s Green Grocer look like?
A. For Zeke, 3 days a week it’s getting up really, really early and heading to our warehouse to get things going, make sure we’re set up for a smooth day of packing, deal with any fires that need putting out all the while our team is receiving orders, stocking inventory, packing boxes, jamming to Lucas’s latest DJ set, loading their delivery vehicles and making sure there are no last minute changes before they hit the road.
For me, it can be anything from meeting with a farmer or a new vendor, creating content and helping people learn more about what we do and offer, cooking, playing in the kitchen, working on our website, answering emails, meeting with a community partner to brainstorm new collaborations, and doing lots of sharing on our Instagram story. I’m not good with routine so I created a job where as long as I have systems to get things done, I can be fueled by creativity and decide on how my day is going to go from there.
Q | What are your relationships like with your farmers? How do you choose which farms and companies to work with?
A. When we started, there was no local food network set up, period. Because of that, it was all about making relationships, reaching out and saying, “Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we would love to be able to get from you. Do you think you would be interested in working with us?” Thank goodness for Tuscarora Organic Growers Coop! At the time they were a small cooperative of mostly Amish/Mennonite Growers and Jim and Moie from New Morning Farm, and they were growing ORGANIC food (remember, I’m from California and the east coast hadn’t really caught on yet). We started working with them right away which gave us access to multiple farmers and more variety. Today, we still work with Tuscarora as well as other farmer’s coops and seek out independent farmers that are growing to our standards and excited about working with us. We love to support new farmers and even if they don’t have anything to sell us we are still thrilled to have them pick our brains for advice and insight. We have 23 years worth of buyer/grower experiences to learn from and feel honored to be able to serve farmers that are just starting out.
One look at our offerings and it’s obvious we love to support local makers as well. From kombucha, cheese, breads, coffee and sooooo much more, if it’s produced to our standards, is a good fit for our brand, tastes delicious and there’s passion from the maker, we’re all about getting those products in front of our customers. We take pride in being invoice 001 for many new local food producers!
Q | We’re sure you love them all, but do you have a favorite product or brand that you carry? Any especially great for the holiday season?
A. Hmmm, that’s really a tough one! Our favorite maker isn’t a person though, it’s the hens that lay our rather famous eggs. Our customers are constantly telling us how amazing they are and that they are the best eggs they have ever had. We even have a customer that gives our eggs as birthday presents because they love turning other people on to them! We love it too!
Q | You’ve been in the business for a while -- much longer than others in the DC health + wellness scene. What are the biggest shifts you’ve seen over the years and how have you all adjusted, if at all?
A. Oh wow, it’s an entirely different world now! We’ve seen all of the trends come and go, the catch words played out. For a very long time we were the only ones in the game and now it’s a VERY crowded playing field. When we started WGG people were just amazed with the idea of a company that brought fantastically fresh food to their doorsteps and really cared about them as people and not just consumers.
It’s pretty noisy out there now, and I think people are falling into overwhelm. We’re staying true to our roots while listening and growing to further meet the needs of our customers.
I love that self-care is being embraced and sought after in big ways. I think that has a direct relationship to people feeling overwhelmed and needing to feel grounded.
Q | Do you have any go-to healthy eats when you’re in the DC area?
A. Sunflower Fields from Greenheart is like getting a hug. Seriously, while I’m sipping it, all is right with the world! I’m a pho fan and firmly belief that everything about eating it is a healing ritual. Even sitting at the communal tables. Pho 75 in Arlington is my fav. Finally, it’s healthy-ish, but it’s a personal challenge to see how many toppings I can get on top of an Amsterdam Falafel and still get it into my mouth without dropping everything down the front of my shirt. Two layers of pickled turnips and the harissa always goes in first.
Q | Despite being on the go, it seems like you make a lot of meals from home, including your own juice. What is your favorite recipe to make?
A. I’m a salad fanatic. I love creating different combinations and 9 times out of 10 if you walk in on me in the kitchen I’ll be elbows deep in a giant salad bowl tossing together a ton of delicious flavors.
My favorite dressing and one I must have in my refrigerator or I get a little panicky is this Lemon Tahini number. You can make it thick for a sauce or dip or thin it out for a dressing and it’s delicious on everything. I crave it. It’s easy:
½ cup tahini (we LOVE tahini from Soom...three sisters from Philly making the best tahini in the world)
½ cup water (more for thinning)
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Blend and put it on everything!
Q | Speaking of making food at home, you have one of the best Instagram accounts and engaging behind-the-scenes stories. Where do you draw inspiration for your beautiful and informational posts?
A. Aww, thank you! When I was little I loved staying over at my grandma Irma’s house. She was a lifelong wanderer/walker and she would take me on long walks through the California foothills. She’d see wild fennel and break off a stock for each of us to chew on while we walked and talked. She would point out all the wild things and tell me stories, some of them about when she and my grandpa rode from New York to California on a motorcycle and camped along the way. Then we would go back to her house and she would sit me on the counter and fill up the sink with water and hand me a head of beautiful romaine from her garden and tell me to “tear it up, wash it well and make a salad.” For dessert we’d have a bowl of fresh picked blackberries with heavy cream and a sprinkling of sugar. I fell in love with food and the connections it offered and have been seeking out food experiences my entire life. My first job at 13 was in a health food store kitchen (working at the juice bar!), I started a catering business, I traveled and ate street food. I knocked on kitchen doors asking if I could come in and watch. I became a chef and I started a farm to doorstep food business. Food and nature inspire me and I love sharing it with other people and hope to inspire them to try something new, wonder what bees do in winter while enjoying local honey on their yogurt, and think about how their food choices affect the health and wellness of themselves, our communities and the planet.
PS, walking and eating real food pays off- my grandma lived by herself and took walks every day until she was 98 and lived until she was 102 years old.
HEART + TABLE