Organic foods in high demand

The 21st century is known for its focus on healthy choices and environmentally friendly involvement, so it’s no surprise that sales of organic foods have sky-rocketed over the last decade. Contrary to what people suspect,

The 21st century is known for its focus on healthy choices and environmentally friendly involvement, so it’s no surprise that sales of organic foods have sky-rocketed over the last decade.

Contrary to what people suspect, organic farming has a long history. It was the way farming was done before the 1950s when chemicals were introduced.

Later in 1990, to create some uniformity, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act, asking the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set regulations to define “organic.” Eleven years later, they finished and organic food products got certification standards.

Organic foods are grown without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and harmful additives. They are processed without artificial ingredients or preservatives. This is why organic food is said to taste better – it is picked and shipped at the peak of ripeness. Organic refers to not using genetically engineered seeds.

Treatment of the animals on organic farms is healthier. These farmers refrain from using growth hormones or antibiotics for their livestock. Also, the animals’ feed is organically grown and the livestock enjoy the pleasures of outdoor access.

In addition, organic farmers use healthier agricultural practices including crop rotation. They practice natural insect control, such as adding ladybugs into the fields, as a technique to keep pests away. Finally, organic farmers are expected to conserve environmental resources by protecting forests and wetlands in danger of development. Some folks say that instead of being healthier for you, organics are instead less harmful than normal foods.

Organic food usually costs more than conventional food because it is extremely labor intensive in order to meet USDA regulations.

But, with non-organic foods, society is often paying additional money later with the added costs of chemical clean-up in soil and water contamination.

With what seems like endless options of places to buy groceries in Philadelphia, any consumer can get a bit overwhelmed. Scanning the city will turn up a couple top picks in the area for organic foods.

The stores featured provide unique offerings in the supply of organics including prepared meals, coffee, baby food and even potting soil. Despite its reputation, you can be healthy in Philly – you just have to know where to look.

Whole Foods
20th and Callowhill Streets

Whole Foods has become a staple in the region for organic groceries. That’s no surprise considering Whole Foods has three stores in Philadelphia alone. The chain was rated one of the “Fortune: 100 Best Companies to Work For” 10 years in a row.

It also has the prestigious title of the America’s first National Certified Organic Grocer. Wandering the aisles, I was amazed by the vast selection – the number of organic mushrooms alone was astounding.

Curt Dwyer, 25, of Center City, shops at Whole Foods because it’s the closest grocery store to his apartment and because it has a “better selection than Trader Joes,” he noted.

With a store this size in a prime city location, it is quite a surprise that Whole Foods has the space to carry so many hard-to find items.

The store’s attractive displays hold anything from various kinds of organic children’s juice boxes to shelves of canned organic tomatoes.

Since this Whole Food’s store is about 50 to 60 percent organic, there’s bound to be something for everyone.

Trader Joe’s
2121 Market St.

Apparently, the secret is out about this store. During a recent visit, the lines were long and the aisles were packed.

This privately-owned grocery does not offer sales flyers or coupons. Their approach is for the customer to get quality products at affordable prices all the time. Trader Joe’s guarantees value by eliminating the middleman and buying direct from producers.

Nicole Gold, 36, of Center City appreciates Trader Joe’s efforts to keep costs down and food quality up. She buys organic meats and dairy at Trader Joe’s for family dinners with her son.

“Whole Foods is a lot more expensive,” she explained.

When buying store-brand products – which are significantly cheaper – a customer can be sure that the hens laying the eggs did so cage-free and that products never contain genetically modified ingredients.

Trader Joe’s continuously updates its aisles, aiming to introduce 10 to 15 new products a week. Seasonal products, poor sellers and limited supply items are then discounted to free space for new products.

Natural Goodness
2000 Walnut St.

Natural Goodness is a local independent retailer of organic goods and cafe-style meals and smoothies. The size of the store is large enough without making consumers feel overwhelmed, and the staff is helpful and great with answering questions.

Beverly Stropes, the founder of Natural Goodness, has owned and operated the store for 25 years to help Philadelphians maintain healthy living.

“We are committed to it,” she said. “I would just like to see people eat healthier.”

This grocery store is 80 percent organic, with an in-house cafe serving organic ingredient meals. Cafe items include “eggless” egg salad and avocado and cream cheese sandwiches. For the omnivores, there are ostrich or salmon burgers made from naturally antibiotic-free meat.

Natural Goodness has a second mission: to educate consumers about living a healthy lifestyle. This is why Stropes feels her store is special.

“We feature a lot of health and beauty products,” she said. “They don’t have any chemicals or aluminum in them, which other stores often do.”

Natural Goodness teaches informative classes every other Friday night. The March 2nd class is on vegan desserts.

Essene Market and Cafe
719 S. 4th Street

Open for 35 plus years, the independent market Essene is almost as large as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but has an even greater organic offer – 90 percent of their produce is organic. Organic lovers can dine in or opt for take-out from a buffet offering such appealing choices as stir fried boy choy and vegan samosas.

Essene has sold organic products since its founding.

“We think they are the best products that people can consume as part of their diet. We provide the cleanest products that we can get on our shelves,” said store manager Ed Mitinger.

Laura Blau, 52, of South Philadelphia shops at Essene Market to support Pennsylvania-grown produce.

“[Buying organic products benefits] my own personal health and the general health of the planet by not spending money on petrol- chemicals and not wasting money on fuel,” she said, referring to the fact that conventional farming uses more fossil fuels especially with the practice of synthetic fertilizers.

Essene sells organic baby food, pet food and has a bulk foods section. It even offers ceramic dishes, Earth brand shoes, juicer machines and Hemp Organics makeup.

Shop Rite
Front Street & Snyder Avenue

For newbies to the organic scene, Shop Rite in South Philadelphia has enough to cover the basics. The store features a small selection of organic fruits and veggies, frozen foods, and organic muffin and pancake mixes. Its organic dairy section, juices, soy and rice milk, and snack chips are well supplied.

Store owner Jim Colligas is responsible for introducing organic products to the store. When he bought the store in June 2005, he conducted studies on shopper’s interests and backgrounds.

“We saw that the demographic was changing and more young professionals were moving into the area – more health conscious people,” he said.

With the introduction of an organic section, the Shop Rite brand began carrying organic products including frozen vegetables and applesauce. However, Colligas noted that he is very proud of the fresh organic meat section featuring chicken sausage, Angus beef and ground turkey.

Shop Rite offers a free online and in-store health magazine called “Live Right” which helps the consumer make decisions on natural versus organic items and provides information on food allergies.

Joe Coffee Bar
1100 Walnut St.

Joe Coffee Bar is trying to make good in an industry surrounded by corporate giants who may not care about the finer details. Owner Joe Cesa founded a coffee shop that is not only 85 percent organic coffee and produce, but offers 100 percent Arabic coffee beans that are fair trade and shade grown – which means they grow slower and develop more complex flavors.

Fair trade is a term explaining that the coffee farmers are paid a proper wage for their labor.

Joe’s uses local produce at his Wi-Fi hot spot. The shop also recycles glass, plastic and coffee grounds. Joe’s pours 100 percent coffee into each cup, while some competitors use up to 1/3 of “other matter.”

“The quality is better,” Cesa said about his coffee. “It tastes better and there is a longer shelf life even though there are no preservatives. This is because the product comes from within 75 miles of Philly.”

Colleen Dunn can be reached at

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