This fall marks 25 years for the Organic Grocer in Surrey, B.C. The store has been impactful in its community, as recognized with the multiple Local People’s Choice Awards for best health food store, best supplements store, and best certified organic store it has garnered through the years.
For co-founders and owners Garth Owen and Deb Foote, it has been an amazing journey, and they continue to marvel at the things that have occurred since they opened. “There have been a lot of changes,” explains Garth. “We’ve seen the demand for clean food and household products skyrocket, from very basic to very sophisticated. We’ve seen people wanting to get back to the basics, back to ingredients they understand. They especially don’t want to see complicated ingredients in their foods. There are far more allergy and diet concerns now than we’ve ever seen before. People are accepting that there is no magic bullet. They are starting to understand that diet can play a important role in getting their bodies back in balance.”
“The organic industry has really changed,” explained Deb. “Sure, there was certification, but there were no regulations. Even in the U.S., regulations were just in the developmental stage. What has changed is where food comes from and how it is now tracked. Every ingredient has to be documented before the finished product can carry an organic label. And the same applies to how it is produced. Organics was once the fringe, and now mainstream retailers are all over it, they even have their own organic brands. We wanted to create awareness for organics, so, I guess we got what we wanted.”
Garth agrees. “We wanted to have organic available in all stores to the entire population. Now it has happened. Organic food is available everywhere. So, yes, we are happy with the evolution of our industry, but it has made it harder for smaller stores to compete. Our store can keep up and compete price wise, but our edge is our education. That is where we can beat the mass. Educated and accredited staff – we have a strong team of knowledgeable staff, constantly striving to learn more about the products they sell. That makes a big difference in serving customers.”
Two main elements worked in favour of the creation of the Organic Grocer. First, Deb and Garth had immense passion for, and solid footing in, the organic realm. Garth was primarily on the retail side for years, working side-by-side with industry legend and CHFA hall-of-famer Arran Stephens (who went on to co-found Nature’s Path with his wife Ratana) at Lifestreams store and Woodlands Restaurant in Vancouver. He also worked with the East End Food Co-op and Famous Foods, a pioneer in bulk food that has been around for over a century. Garth also spent a decade at Edible Island Whole Food Market in Courtney, B.C.
Deb’s strength came from the supplier side. She handled a multitude of tasks at Wild West Organics – a co-operatively-run organic produce company – from 1986 to 2006. Wild West eventually morphed into SunOpta and then UNFI. “Wild West had a chance to open a retail outlet at the Surrey Public Market, but didn’t have the interest in operating a retail store,” recalled Deb. “So, Garth and I managed to scratch some money together and we got a small loan from the CCEC Credit Union and we gave it a go. We were fortunate Garth had many relationships he’d built up through the years of working in retail. And having a distributor in the family didn’t hurt either.”
Organic Grocer opened in 1993 with Garth more or less as the face of the store, while Deb continued her work at Wild West during the day, and handled the financial side of the business in evenings and weekends.
When Deb and Garth named the store Organic Grocer, it sort of put pressure on them to meet or surpass some kind of bar, and set an example in their community. And the name was also more or less a line in the sand, a stand, a position, a statement. “Yes to all of those things,” related Garth. “We were the first store in Canada to become certified organic …that allowed us to use and display the new Certified Organic label in store. It was quite a learning process about inputs and outputs. Because of change in provincial and federal positions, we are no longer certified organic because retail it’s not recognized under the Canada Organic Regime.
In Canada the organic standards are an agricultural standard,” explained Deb, “But we follow the same standards today as we did then. We still walk the walk. We still live by and follow the organic standards.”
The Organic Grocer has been more than a passive member of its community offering good food choices. Deb and Garth have proudly used it as a platform to initiate positive change and support good causes.
“Some you see all the time and have made a big impact… Organic Week, Fairtrade Month and Non-GMO Month,” said Garth. “This required lots of education of our customers and the community.”
“We’ve become the first Bee City store in B.C.” explained Deb. Bee City Canada’s mission is to inspire cities, towns, First Nations, schools, businesses and other organizations to take action to protect pollinators. “Bee City works with schools to educate students about healthy bee populations, and the role they play as pollinators. If we don’t have a healthy bee population, we won’t have a very good food supply.”
In its local community, the store also supports the Surrey Food Bank, The Surrey Women’s Centre, Sources B.C., Covenant House, and Burn’s Bog Conservation Society. Its organic causes include the Canadian Organic Trade Association, Certified Organic Associations of B.C., Feast of Fields presented by Farm Folk City Folk, Canada Organic Growers and Young Agrarians.
Deb, Garth and their staff are always looking for alternatives, initiating causes and introducing new philosophies through the store. “Naturally, we re-cycle everything we can,” said Garth. “We’ve banned straws. And we really stirred it up with customers when we got rid of plastic shopping bags for a month. There were lots of people who were happy about that, while others were really resistant to change. I estimate that over the last 15 years, we’ve given out almost 30,000 reusable shopping bags. Some are still in use…I see customers bring them in and some have been in use for a dozen or more years.”
The store also encourages its suppliers to ensure a clean, sustainable safe, food supply and reduce their negative environment impact. “We choose to support companies that hold our same values,” said Garth “and we choose to support farmers who value the Earth as we do.”
“We really encourage our suppliers to use cornstarch popcorn packing material instead of plastic bubble wrap,” related Deb. “This is mostly vitamin and body care products. We make sure the operators we buy from are following proper protocols with their labeling. Intra-provincial trade organic labeling hasn’t been scrutinized as it should be, so we spend a lot of time educating small scale manufacturers and local producers. You can’t just say organic if you have just some organic. We’ve done a lot educating of suppliers over the years, but we’ve also learned from them. We steer clear of products that have questionability of their labelling or standards.
Deb and Garth’s passion for the environment and organics cannot be contained by the store’s four wall: it has spilled out in many ways and shapes through their involvement and actions in causes. Garth served two terms on the CHFA board of directors and headed the organic caucus. Deb received the CHFA Organic Achievement Award in 2005. She has served on the boards of Certified Organic Association of B.C. board, the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society and the CCEC Credit Union (which helped fund the original store). She has also been involved with Agriculture Canada’s Organic Value Chain round table and the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada in Truro, NS. She even went through the rigorous training program to become an organic inspector, which would allow her to make recommendations to certify farms and businesses. Although she didn’t take the final step, it gave her tremendous insights into the entire organic process and helped her in her other roles.
Deb and Garth are also active members of a number of Mayne Island based environmental organizations including the Mayne Island Recycling Society and the Mayne Island Conservancy Society. Deb serves on both organizations’ boards.
The Organic Grocer has established itself as a leader in organic, the environment, supporting local causes and educating its customers and community since it’s founding. The store – it seems – has done just about everything a health food store can do. What’s left to accomplish? There’s always something new to consider, said Garth. “We’ve started partnering with local natural and holistic practitioners, a local wellness clinic that offers services out of our store. We work with specialists and other professionals and groups to help people understand their health and the direction their health should take. We’re trying to introduce accredited disciplines from other health sources. We’ll continue to support our core group of community organizations…they are like our family.
“We’ve just added CBD products. That’s new for us and it seems to be catching on.”
For the most part, watch for the Organic Grocer to continue to do the things that have made it a success for 25 years, said Garth. “We’re going to keep on keeping on.”
During the month of April many new products become available to us – and you! We’ve been carefully sifting through the new products and we’re excited to bring some pretty spectacular products to you. Here’s a sneak peek:
New Roots Herbals – have a look through the vitamin section – we’ve brought literally dozens of new products in by this knowledgeable company. You’ll find them competitively priced; yet New Roots products are often the highest quality and highest potency on the shelf! Make sure you have a close look at these guys! Most of their products are on sale this month.
Sisu Children’s Line – we’ve brought is the hugely popular Sisu U-Cube Gummy MultiVitamins, Gummy Cal/Mag for Kids, & Gummy tart Vitamin C. Your kids are gonna love them – come in and ask for a sample.
Truly Turmeric – wild crafted whole root turmeric & black pepper paste. This paste is therapeutic grade turmeric with black pepper to enhance the healing properties of the turmeric. Blended in coconut oil with a twist of lime – we’re super excited about this one! (Find it next to the therapeutic coconut oils in the grocery section).
Denman Island Grizzly Bars – a tasty way to support our local rain forests this Easter Season. (We’ve got the bunnies too!) Take a picture with the bar for your chance to win a trip to Tofino! #GrizzlyBar
Better Than Pasta Konjac Noodles & Rice alternatives – High in fibre, low in carbs, these tasty noodle and rice alternatives keep you feeling satisfied while keeping your carb intake down.
Flora Health Teas – we’ve brought in several new medicinal teas by Flora Health. Make sure you stop by the tea section the next time you’re in the store.
Radico Organic Hair Dye – These all natural chemical free hair dyes are permanent and safe to use for the whole family. Give them a try and let us know what you think!
Genuine Health’s shelf stable probiotics – Our NEW advanced gut health probiotic contains 15 strains that mimic human gut flora in an allergen- and plastic-free delayed-release capsule to deliver our probiotics straight to your gut! We keep them in the fridge with the other probiotics.
3 Brains Formulas – for over all body health. These formulations take a holistic approach to brain health and are getting great feed back! Look for these great products through out our supplement section.
Nirvana Pies – Pot pies made with clean, scrumptious ingredients by a local family in Richmond. Foods that comfort the soul and brighten the spirit!
There’s so much more that hasn’t yet arrived – but will be here before the end of the month! Make sure to take some extra time this month to look at all the new stuff!
Ultimate Maca Energy
Ultimate Maca Energy is made with 100% pure, traditionally sundried, natural and certified organic maca root grown exclusively in the Andean highland zones of Peru at altitudes of 14,000 ft. Ultimate Maca Energy maca root has many health benefits and scientifically tested properties. In addition to being a source of vitamins, minerals, protein, amino acids and complex carbohydrates, Ultimate Maca Energy also contains an impressive array of bioactive components and antioxidants, which are responsible for its numerous benefits.
The Various Benefits of Maca
Maca is a well-known and powerful adaptogen, which means that it is a substance that helps to increase the body’s natural resistance to environmental stresses. Recent human clinical studies have provided convincing scientific evidence supporting supplementation for healthy mood balance during menopause.
How Maca Works
Maca is loaded with vital nutrients in bioavailable forms which assist the body in its on-going process of regeneration, ultimately helping to replenish and recuperate from different problems and providing ultimate balance and wellbeing. Its actions focus mainly on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, assisting the body in balancing hormones. This is where the main benefits associated with maca can be noted (e.g. mood balance).
Ultimate Maca Energy is certified by the Natural Agricultural U
niversity of La Molina in Peru and also by Skal. The National Agricultural University of La Molina in Peru is an independent entity funded by the government of Peru that oversees all the agricultural and related activities in different areas of the country.
Learn even more here
Getting ready to get back to the routine that comes with fall around the corner starts us thinking about making healthier choices. We at the OG are thinking about healthier alternatives as well as our children prep to head back to school. We’re starting to think about getting back to the gym too. Plus there’s all the new sports teams coming up this year!
Phew! It can be overwhelming before it even begins! To help you get organized – and stay calm – we’ve pulled together a list of some of our favourite Back-to-Routine blogs worth revisiting!
- Need Energy? Zip Fuel quickly and safely boosts energy for people of all ages and fitness levels. This tasty beverage boosts the mind, supports the muscles, and provides energy for all those Back to School Activities & Sports (or maybe just getting back to the gym!) Check out Zip Fuel here.
- DHA & Fish Oils are essential for Brain & Eye Health as well as for stabilizing mood (Think ADD, ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, Stress – they all benefit from high quality high dose Omega 3 supplementation). This is really one of those every day for everyone supplements – because literally every cell in your body is made of Omega 3 oils! DHA, supports healthy brain, eye and nerve function in all humans so it’s ideal for expecting and nursing mothers, toddlers and anyone who needs extra brain or eye support. Did you know that over 90% of the omega-3 in the brain and retina is in the form of DHA?
Omega3 fatty acids are crucial for childhood brain development which lays the foundation for learning, behaviour, attention span, mental focus, and mood. Studies have also shown omega-3 fatty acid to be effective for treatment of childhood ADHD.
- Food Allergies in the classroom are a daily concern in the modern classroom – and even some work places. If you have been wondering whether peanut allergies are more common these days, you are indeed correct. Peanut allergies in children more than tripled between 1997 and 2008 in the U.S, presently affecting more than 400,000 children! Learn how to prevent food allergies here.
- Natural Care to get Embarrassing Acne under control before school starts: Every year all of the normal preparation might not be enough to make some kids feel ready for new friends, memories and adventures. If they have acne or other skin problems some kids can be really embarrassed and self-conscious! Learn about the top skin care tips, tricks, and products that can help achieve a clearer complexion in time to head back to school.
- Keeping Sugar Cravings Under Control and Out of the Classroom: The problem is that clearly we, here in Canada, are rarely facing famine. And in fact we often take in a heap more calories than we really need, given the energy we use up (especially sitting quietly at school desks!) We no longer have to fight or dig for our food. The closest we get to burning up energy running after our food is chasing the ice cream van down the street! Learn ways to comfortably and healthfully reduce sugar and sugar cravings in this article.
- Tips for Getting Nourishing Foods into picky eaters: The summer days of s’mores, endless barbeques and ice cream cones are quickly fading as autumn ushers in back-to-school as well as intentions for setting good habits for the year ahead. This time of year tends to mean a return to less-frivolous eating and a renewed focus on better nutrition all around. Even with an apple in every lunch box, a surprising amount of children aren’t hitting their daily requirements for fruit and vegetable consumption! Get some ideas in this article to sneak a few more fruits and veggies into your kids’ lunches – and maybe you’ll learn a few things for your own lunches!
- Tips for Enhancing Mindfulness Naturally: Everyone needs a little calm in their life – children are no different! Learn the value of mindfulness in this article – and learn to be mindful along side your children.
ZAKLAN HERITAGE FARM: GROWING DELICIOUS VEGETABLES USING ECOLOGICALLY FRIENDLY PRACTICES & KEEPING A BIT OF SURREY’S HISTORY ALIVE…
Did you know we have an amazing and robust organic farm right in our back yard? Zaklan Heritage Farm has been in Surrey on 138th and 84th since 1928! They produce the most amazing organic produce – and we are so happy to have their locally grown products in our store!
So far this year Zaklan Heritage Farm has provided us with stunning lettuces, salad mix, kales, radishes, and snap peas and we are looking forward to cukes and zukes and red Russian garlic any day now. We can’t wait to hear what the fall harvest will have in store for us!
Check out the Zackan’s story:
Motivated by a passion for the environment and creating positive change, we found ourselves farming at the UBC Farm in Vancouver in 2011. Gemma, a graduate of the Global Resource Systems program at UBC, was in her 4th season at the UBC Farm when she met Doug, a student in the Practicum program. At that time Doug was already beginning to sow the first seeds of Zaklan Heritage Farm, and Gemma was getting ready to take off for a year managing a farm in Peru.
2012 was spent apart, each learning and exploring new farming practices to complement those we’d learned at UBC Farm. When we re-united in 2013 we began to expand and grow the idea of what Zaklan Heritage Farm could be. Now in the second year together at the farm we are growing on twice as much space as the previous year and continue to increase the number of neighbours, families and community members fed from our farm.
Started in the 1920’s by Dragan and Marta Zaklan, the Zaklan Family has been farming this land for over 80 years. In 2011 the now urban farm underwent a revitalization led by Doug, the next generation of Zaklans. With Doug’s vision, and ample support from the family, the farm has been transformed into a diverse mixed vegetable and livestock operation.
Our 8 acres grows a diversity of vegetable and fruit crops, as well as provides space to pasture livestock, including our 95 laying hens. The birds are rotated around the farm throughout the season, providing them access to fresh green grass and grubs all year long. Growing food using an intensive production system, with small machinery and hand tools, we are able to minimize our fossil fuel consumption and better manage our soils in an ecologically sound way.
Utilizing an intensive cropping style, the vegetables and fruits produced on the farm are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals. Fueled by organic compost and sustainable soil management practices, the produce emerges vibrant and fresh from the fields.
Throughout the season we grow over 40 different types of vegetables, providing a diversity of tastes, textures and colours to awaken the taste buds to what real food tastes like. We tend to our animals and vegetables with respect and care, producing a product we are proud to share, and love to eat ourselves!
A little piece of Canadian (and Surrey’s) history – learn about how the Zackland Farm came to be all the way back in 1920 here.
Did you know you can collaborate with the Zackllands for a better world?
Check out their volunteer and special projects page here.
“Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. ”
― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays