Improving Lives Through Food for Generations
In 2016, Asheville is very much known for being a health destination. The “Berkeley of the East Coast” is as abundant with health food shops, yoga studios and wellness practitioners of all stripes as it is with clean air and lush greenery. But while Asheville’s beauty is by and large a natural wonder, it took many hands to forge the wellness scene that’s come to define it. The Earth Fare grocery store is a longtime staple of Asheville’s health-conscious crowd, and it was at the forefront of this movement. Many locals know Earth Fare as an easily-accessibly health food mecca — it’s conveniently located in the Westgate Shopping Center, about halfway between downtown and West Asheville. However, not as many are aware that Earth Fare’s history is intertwined with other wellness movements in our city, including the growing emphasis on local foods.
Laurie Aker, Earth Fare company spokesperson, has a particular affection for the story. She explains that Earth Fare’s roots go back to 1975: founder Roger Derrough “wanted to create a store where you didn’t have to turn around every single package,” she explains. That year, he set up a store called Dinner For The Earth. For the first five years of its life, this was simply “a one-room store that operated out of a tiny storefront on Merrimon Avenue,” she says. It then moved to Broadway, where it operated for the next fourteen years. In 1993, Dinner For The Earth changed its name to Earth Fare. “That was when they decided to join the growing movement to push natural and organic foods to the forefront of the American culinary experience,” Laurie says. They relocated to Westgate Shopping Center in a full grocery-store outlet; in 1997, they opened up their second location, in Charleston, South Carolina. Currently there are thirty-seven Earth Fare stores in nine states. Mostly they’re in the South East, though locations range from the Mid-Atlantic region to the Midwest.
Throughout its significant expansion, Earth Fare has remained committed to the integrity of its offerings. They were one of the first stores in the industry to eliminate trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils, and they were the first grocery store to ban high fructose corn syrup. “We took a pretty big stand with that,” Laurie says. Indeed, Earth Fare’s quality standard truly sets the bar for other grocery stores. “It’s really what makes Earth Fare unique,” Laurie notes. Continuing the legacy of Roger Derrough, “we like to say ‘we read the food labels so you don’t have to,’ ” she says, explaining that all items are free of artificial and trans fats, artificial sweeteners and preservatives, and bleached or bromated flours.
They also take the local-food ethos very seriously. “When we say local, we really mean local,” she says. Typically, they source their products from within a 100-mile radius of each outlet. Though they break that rule on occasion, the local principle by and large dictates their produce selection. Local also means seasonal, of course; items and selections change not only depending on where a store is located, but the time of year. This sometimes means that there isn’t quite as much produce variety during the winter, but Earth Fare’s customers generally understand — and appreciate — why this is.
Earth Fare’s local-first philosophy also extends to its community of food purveyors. As Laurie explains it, “Part of Earth Fare’s mission is to improve lives through food. That means supporting the development of those who maintain our food systems and local infrastructures.” One way Earth Fare does this is by relying on family farms for many of their products; by supporting these smaller ventures, they help bridge the gap between the producer, the consumer and the community.
Luckily, our area has no shortage of incredible local sources for everything from fruits and vegetables to body care items. Some of Laurie’s favorite Asheville items include honey from Haw Creek Honey and Woodridge Aviaries; produce from Wildwood Herbal; organically-grown microgreens from Lila’s Garden, and body products from ZenJen Skin and Faerie Made. She also has a soft spot for Masala Greeting Cards and perpetual favorite Lusty Monk Mustard.
Laurie’s list is by no means exhaustive, of course. As Asheville’s reputation as a wellness-focused community grows, more and more wonderful businesses take root regionally. And Earth Fare has not only been part of it for decades, but has helped it grow — yet another reason to feel great about shopping there.