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Owners of The Gold Concept launch new permaculture project, GC Family Farm

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The Gold Concept started when two Cal Poly students took a jewelry class for fun in the late '60s. They had no idea then what their artsy passion project would become.

"My dad was a history major, his business partner was an architecture major, so had nothing to do with jewelry," said Aaron Gomez, who with his brother eventually became the co-owner of the beloved Downtown SLO business. "They were literally making jewelry at Cal Poly, and [said], 'Let's try this out as a business.'"

SALES TO SOIL Brothers and co-owners Aaron (left) and Devin (right) Gomez pose in front of their family-owned Higuera Street storefront, The Gold Concept, which closed on on Dec. 31, 2021, after 50 years in business. - PHOTO COURTESY OF AARON GOMEZ
  • Photo Courtesy Of Aaron Gomez
  • SALES TO SOIL Brothers and co-owners Aaron (left) and Devin (right) Gomez pose in front of their family-owned Higuera Street storefront, The Gold Concept, which closed on on Dec. 31, 2021, after 50 years in business.

Fifty years later, that business was still thriving and family-owned—but 2021 was The Gold Concept's last year in operation. Gomez, also a former SLO City Council member, announced late last year that the store would close as his family pursues building a sustainable farm. He said the retail jewelry industry no longer aligns with his values.

"Permaculture and farmsteading and being a land steward felt way more important to me than the world of retail jewelry," he said.

Gomez emphasized that there are ways to make jewelry mindfully.

"I think we're fortunate here in San Luis to have some small craftsmen, so they are able to have control over that supply chain," Gomez said.

But over the years, he continued, it's become harder and less common to craft jewelry sustainably—especially fine jewelry, which involves precious metals and gems that are often sourced unethically.

"We started doing lab-grown diamonds probably five or six years ago, because it's a low-impact way to get diamonds," Gomez said. "They're the same as natural diamonds, but you don't have to deal with the mining process, you don't have to deal with poor labor practices."

For a while, Gomez said, it was an uncommon practice, and therefore done on a small production scale. But as lab-grown diamonds grew in popularity, so too did global manufacturers' interest in producing them.

"Now it's unsustainable, because you're dealing with the same issues that you dealt with in mining," Gomez explained. "I just didn't want to continue to participate in that."

Gomez added that it's simply not as easy to run a business as it once was.

"My dad probably created that business in the Goldilocks zone of jewelry," Gomez said. "The whole downtown has shifted since that era, and obviously gold prices have gone way up, and rent space has gone way up. You can no longer kind of have that same carefree [approach] as you once did in his era. I think that goes for our entire town."

While The Gold Concept's closure is certainly the end of an era, Gomez and his family are nothing but excited for their next venture in permaculture and farmsteading. The farm will be located on family property in the county and called GC Family Farm.

Gomez defines permaculture as "living in alignment with the natural ecosystems via both lifestyle and land stewardship choices"—in other words, it's more than just a farm. Gomez said he doesn't have set plans to sell produce yet: He sees the farm first and foremost as a means of subsistence.

"Eventually, we'll ponder doing a CSA [community supported agriculture box] once the fruit trees come in and we know what our annual crop yields are," he said. "But I'm more interested in creating a space that helps other people."

As the old adage (sort of) goes: Sell a man your produce and he eats for a day, but teach a man to farm and he eats for a lifetime.

"If [people] can come out and see a working demonstration of a certain technique," Gomez said, "I think that would be more beneficial than us producing food to sell."

Fast fact

3C-REN (the Tri-County Regional Energy Network), an energy saving partnership that spans the Tri-County Central Coast area, announced a new partnership with the Building Decarbonization Coalition called Switch is On. The campaign aims to help local residents make the switch from gas to electric appliances. To find out more information about how to switch to electric and save money while doing so, head to switchison.org. Δ

Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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