Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

This week's been as much about exploring as it is about experiencing and getting things done around my homestead. I've vowed to step a little outside my comfort zone this vacation, trying things I've never done, seeing places I've never been and meeting people I'd normally be too shy to talk to. And that, my friends, is how I found myself out in Fairlawn this morning, amongst the all-too-familiar hustle and bustle of a new retail store opening but with a whole new set of faces.

Last week I was enticed to take a short trip today to get an invitation-only sneak preview of what's sure to be one of the COOLEST places in town, a natural foods grocery store called Earth Fare that's new to our neighborhood. Earth Fare is an Asheville, NC based company where food comes with philosophy. That's right. Everything inside their stores is special for what it DOESN'T have, namely artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, synthetic growth hormones and a host of other yucky things you really shouldn't put in your mouth. They also have what they call their "100 Mile Commitment", which means everything labeled LOCAL in the store is from within 100 miles of that particular location, not just "any location" like some other health food grocer. I've been pretty intrigued by their values since I heard they were headed to the Akron area and have been very excited for them to open. When I got an email from them inviting me out to get a private guided tour and a gift card to give them a try, I totally couldn't resist!

Walking in the door today, with all the madness that goes into preparing for store openings, I was completely surprised at the friendliness of everyone I encountered. Though hard at work, even the folks filling the produce cases were all smiles. It was obvious there was a lot left to do, but Kristi, Brandi and Maria took a break and showed me around, pointing out the incredible selection and showing me how to tell what's local (the signs are a different color!), what it means to be a "Family Producer" (somewhere small, family-owned or artisan-operated that are -or were- local to one of their stores), and the multitudes of gluten-free products that are even on separate shelves to make them easy to find. Visually, folks, this place is stunning, and I can't wait to go back when the registers are open.

Other than the cool food philosophy, which meshes nicely with my own, I learned a few other neat things about the store. Brandi and Kristi told me they don't want local or healthy to mean elitist either. Kristi described that some health food stores can make you "feel like you're at a party where you don't know anyone". At Earth Fare, they want you to feel welcome and be happy with what you pick to eat, so they totally encourage you to ask for samples of things to make sure you get what you want. They have an eat-in cafe with meals for kids that go way beyond happy (they are actually healthy!). The food philosophy even extends to their store brand stuff and they seem to have pretty great coupons, which means you can get the goods without going broke. Their wellness section is huge and I saw more than a few things to get my friends that are expecting. I even got to witness a training class going on so those folks will be super knowledgeable come Grand Opening time, which is ::gasp:: tomorrow! Check out this link to all the coolness going on over there. My mouth was watering by the time I left. It was too muddy today to plow our plot and then it started to rain (AGAIN!), but, if this cruddy weather keeps me from growing my own for a bit, I'm excited that at least I can head over there and pick up a few things without having to read labels so much.

If you are anywhere near Akron, you should swing on by the store and enjoy the festivities. Try some bison cheese while you are there (there really is such a thing and they HAVE it!). Stay tuned folks, because we'll be posting some pics and giving away a gift card in a few short days, so you can go in and make some new friends with my new friends!

Also, I highly recommend stepping outside your comfort zone every now and again. Great things start to happen sometimes when you just let them come.

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