Melisa Clark of the Placerville Natural Food Co-op remembers the dark ages. “The phrase ‘natural foods’ conjured images of slightly goofy denizens of geodesic domes eating bean sprouts and funny mushrooms.” (Not the kind in your salad.) “Obviously,” she gestured toward the well stocked aisles in her store, “Times have changed!”
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Indeed, except for the bean sprouts and good mushrooms. Today, general wisdom holds that the best thing you can do for yourself is to eat healthy. So what happened?
In a word, education. The dangers of mayo-slathered white bread with cheese and salami thick as a wallet, plus greasy fries and carbonated sugar water weren’t as noticeable in the ’60s and ’70s. We didn’t know we were arming our bodies with disease triggers that wouldn’t even fire for another decade or two.
But not unlike the anti-smoking and anti-drunk driving campaigns, doctors and health practitioners preached wholesome eating habits relentlessly. Health messages overwhelmed us. Whole wheat bread. Broccoli. Lose the whipped cream. People we know and love received the dreaded two-minute warning from concerned professionals. We didn’t know about pro-biotics, fiber, flavenoids or resveratrol, but we began to listen, and to come around. Healthy-eating stores and restaurants sprang up.
Enter Noah’s Ark Natural Foods in 1992. Healthy, uncomplicated food, locally grown and mostly organic. David and Toby Harde began the store with a simple philosophy, a healthy community sustained by healthy food. People responded to the message. The store at 535 Placerville Drive next to Foster’s outgrew itself. It added solar panels and parking spaces. Twenty years later the successful store changed its name but not its mission or address.
Clark was there almost from the gitgo, eager and prepared for every responsibility, including nearly evangelical customer service. She was named general manager after the store changed hands in late 2011. Snagging Clark was easy, she already had the job with Noah’s Ark.
A combination true believer and astute businesswoman, she knows every molecule of the store, its products and growers. She is patient and conscious of outreach to the nutritionally challenged. Instead of folding up in laughter when asked to explain the difference between natural and organic, she answered earnestly. “Organic requires certification, natural means no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.”
Looking through the cooler is a trip. A single goose egg is large enough to make a two-egg omelet. “Where chicken eggs are more acidic, the goose egg is more alkaline,” she said offhandedly. “Otherwise they’re almost identical. Wish we had more in stock, but they don’t produce many eggs in winter.” Of course.
You get your choice of milks — almond, goat, coconut, flax and soy, some “raw.” And perfectly safe, according to Clark. Supermarket dairy products, including over-cooked milk, neutralize the enzymes in your, uh, lower digestive system. That’s why supplemental pro-biotics are needed. The statistics are mind-blowing. “Ten times more pro-biotics in a single tablespoon of this food,” she lifted a Cultured Kitchen package off the shelf, “than in one commercial pill.”
Cosmetics and body care products are all food based, and pet products are carefully selected and inspected. “Surveys tell us 95 percent of our clientele have pets, only 5 percent have kids. We’re very cautious.” Chew sticks, according to the label, are made in the USA and stay right here through packaging.”Unlike some brands that process American meat overseas, which recently led to some dead pets and giant recalls.” Clark pointed with pride to a container of rice blended doggie dinners. The label read “Human-grade dog food.” She smiled. “Says it all.”
The enterprise is a co-operative, meaning many owners. Twelve shares of ownership are available to virtually anyone for $300, and can be paid quarter by quarter if desired. Ownership means store discounts, but much more. You’re involved to the extent you want to be. “One of our goals is community education about nutritional food.”
A program “High Five Picks” (High5Picks) is presented as an educational/marketing outreach featuring rotating examples of foods from five fixed groups; fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, beans/legumes and whole grains. Each pick in this quintet of nourishment carries a 15 percent discount for co-op members for the month, and each week one is featured in a well-researched e-pub, Best of Bits & Bites.