It all started when the Markou family bought a lot of land to build a house on. Then the economy tanked. Then food prices started to soar. Then Traci Markou had an idea to fix both problems, while improving the quality of the food her husband, George Markou, served at the restaurant.
“We had the land, so we said, ‘Let’s start a little test garden and see what comes out,’” said George Markou. “We were doing it just for ourselves to eat healthy, to get away from the store-bought, but then we said, ‘Let’s blow it up and use it for the restaurant.’”
And use it they did. George Markou said he uses tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, dill, eggplant, green beans, eggs and goat milk in the dishes at the Swan Road restaurant. Once the garden expansion is complete - it's worked out so well they're doubling it - he’ll use the items at his restaurant on University Boulevard as well.
He’s worked closely with the UA School of Agriculture to ensure everything he does is within health and safety guidelines, and has gotten the green light from the Pima County Health Department.
And while he was doing the talking during our interview, he gives all the credit to his wife, who did most of the work. “She built the fence, she did all the studying to see what soil works. She did it all while I ran the restaurant,” he said.
The ranch now boasts 18 goats, 8 sheep, row after row of organic produce and enough chickens to keep the family and restaurant flush in eggs. They’re adding a milk cow and some rabbits, too.
It doesn’t stop there. They feed most of the waste from food preparation to the goats, who turn it into milk that heads right back to the kitchen. Water from the duck pond - “those are just for fun,” says George Markou — waters the pumpkin patch.
Basically, nothing goes to waste, which saves a lot of money while helping the family stick to their sustainable principles.
“Even our food distributor was impressed,” quipped Markou. “Yeah, even he was excited, even though he was losing some business.”