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Natural Foods Grow Local Market

My Organic Market joins Fresh Fields, Cash Grocer in Alexandria

From shampoo to ham, supermarkets are flooded with “organic” products.

Alexandria has two markets that specialize in organic foods: My Organic Market and The Cash Grocer. High-end grocery chains like Fresh Fields and Trader Joe’s stock a range of organic products, and even mainstream grocers Safeway and Giant have their own “organic” shelves.

But what is “organic”? According to Organic Consumers, “63 percent of Americans think they are buying organic food, more than ever before and growing.

True organic food is “grown, handled, and processed with the utmost care and without pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, fumigants, chemical preservatives, dyes, chemical additives, irradiation and/or genetically engineered DNA.”

It can include vegetables and fruits, but also meats, sodas and even vitamins.

“We have a large supply of vitamins and are willing to special order things for our customers,” said Peggy Kleysteuber. Kleysteuber owns the Cash Grocer, the King Street organic market that has served Alexandria for 27 years.

“We are known up and down the East Coast for the variety of items that we carry,” she said. “Some of our customers have been with us since we started on Pitt Street 27 years ago and some of them have gotten to know us because they come in at lunch.”

The Cash Grocer has a number of items in bulk, including rice, nuts, dried fruit and snacks. Much of their flour is ground on site.

“We are the only store in the area that has its own mill,” Kleysteuber said. “We grind as much as we think we can sell because, with no pesticides, bugs can get into it. I like to tell people that this just adds protein but I’m not sure anyone believes that.”

The store carries a variety of meats as well. “Because we don’t have a large display, we sometimes have to point our meats out to people,” Kleysteuber said. “We carry buffalo meat and some lamb sausage as well as a very good turkey kielbasa.”

The store is small, with only 2400 square feet, not including the warehouse. “We really do provide a public service and a lot of people depend on us,” she said.

A NEW ADDITION to the city is My Organic Market in the Arlandria Shopping Center. Scott Nash is the founder.

He began the company in 1987 when he was 22 years old with an initial investment of $100. It was originally operated as a home delivery/mail order company out of Nash’s mom’s garage.

“Our niche…is high quality produce, discount prices, and exceptional service,” Nash said. “We don’t carry any conventional produce.”

Nash said that the Alexandria store isn’t much different than his other stores in the metropolitan area. “…It’s in new construction, has a large budget to open (will be fancier) and is the first Mom’s on a major road,” he said.

The store carries fresh produce; organic snacks, meats and frozen foods. It is a full-service market that, after only one month in business, is becoming a neighborhood favorite.

WHILE MOM’S IS a newcomer to the area, Fresh Fields has been selling organic and small-farmer grown foods for over a decade at its only Alexandria-area store, on Little River Turnpike. The national chain of natural and organic food stores is opening another Alexandria branch in September, 2004, on Eisenhower Drive.

The success of organic grocers has come along with a rise in popularity of heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables: breeds of plants with long histories and produced in relatively small batches.

“There’s a renewed interest in where food comes from,” that accounts for the popularity of organic food and heirloom fruits, said Sarah Kenney, director of marketing for Fresh Fields and Whole Foods in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Generally, organic shoppers come to the stores for three reasons, she said: they want to support organic and small farms, they think organic food will be healthier, or they think it tastes better.

“We see a number of shoppers who try to buy all organic produce,” said Kenney.

That can be a difficult task. “Organics work for hard fruit, like apples or pears,” she said. “But it’s harder with soft fruit, like peaches. You might not be able to get everything on your list every week. But Generally have over 100 items that are organic

SHOPPERS CAN ALSO FIND organic foods at mainstream groceries, with varying degrees of availability. “It depends on the size of a store,” said Janet Tenney, manager of nutrition products for the Giant chain. “The little ones in Alexandria can’t handle the full range.”

Still, she said, every store has some organic and natural products, whether organic produce, staples with long shelf life like chips or teas, even natural and organic meats in some stores.

“The St. Asaph store won’t carry as much as the one on Duke Street, which is still not one off the big ones,” said Tenney. “Still, you will find something in every section.”