It’s been a year like no other here at MOM’s!  Below is a letter I sent to all employees:

I founded MOM’s [Organic Foods Express, at the time] back in 1987.  People sometimes suggest that it must be difficult and stressful to run such a large company- I reply, “No- the larger the company has gotten, the easier it gets, ironically.  The most difficult time was in the first 20 years during start-up, when we’d come to the brink of going out of business every 4-5 years!” And then the pandemic hit…

I’m not sure which was more stressful for me this year- my divorce or being at the helm of a grocery chain during a pandemic!  I tell people this was the most challenging year since the start-up days. 

Taking a walk down Memory Lane:

  • NBA season is canceled, Tom Hanks gets COVID, and panic buying begins!
  • Wholesalers run out of inventory- and manufacturers can’t keep up- supply chain issues ensue.  
  • There was a mass exodus of employees when we needed people more than ever.  HR/Recruiting had to replace more than half our employees- and you were tasked with training and onboarding them!
  • Safety guidance from county, to city, to state, to inspector! shifted quickly and was at times vague and contradictory- and confusing to all.
  • We scrambled for masks, sanitizer, and plexiglass- all for which a Black Market was instantly formed.
  • Conspiracy theories took hold with anti-maskers and you all had to deal with their lunacy daily, if not hourly! One anti-masker’s video even ended up on InfoWars, which led to a live picketed protest in front of our Woodbridge store.  
  • And yes, there were customers- and some employees- who were very afraid- which required patience on our end as well.  Anyone remember the customer who periodically sprayed a fog of Lysol around her as she walked through the Rockville store?
  • During an already heightened level of operational stress, inaccurate media reports spurned politicians to publicly denounce us-  and we were flooded with negative social media comments, emails, and phone calls from across the country.  I felt this fully on a Friday afternoon when I received an email from the PA Attorney General claiming that they had “reason to believe” that we were unsafe (based on an article in the Philly Inquirer). It was hard for them to see we were doing more than any other grocer considering they never stepped foot in one of our stores to see for themselves.  I called a former AG friend of mine and asked him about it.  His reply was, “If they’ve contacted you, it is serious and not to be taken lightly.” Within days, the Philadelphia City Council wrote an adversarial letter to me- and publicly denounced us via Twitter- claiming we were providing an unsafe work environment and not paying “Hazard Pay” (we called it “Thank You Pay”).  Yet, they never reached out to us directly to confirm if what they’d heard in the media was true.

And April 2020 wasn’t even over yet…

For a grocery chain with 1,200+ employees, I would bet that the infection rate among us was well below all other chains.  And my god, the notion of a fatality was terrifying.  We had none, thankfully.  Think about that- with all of our employees and all of our customers and the millions of interactions we had this past year. I feel immense gratitude.

So here we are- over a year later.  Every person has had the chance to get one of the most successful vaccinations ever created.  Science has saved us.  According to the CDC, through May 17th, of the more than 123 million people vaccinated, the reported hospitalizations of “breakthrough infections” (those who have been fully vaccinated) is 1949.  That is a rate of .0016%. And there is very little evidence that vaccinated people realistically threaten to spread the virus to others.

I’m sure you’re noticing every day at the stores that people are coming in for the first time in over a year.  Hopefully, moods are lighter among the vast majority of our customers.  However, I receive about 40 emails per day, sometimes angry- half from those requesting we follow the CDC and local guidance- and half requesting we don’t- and I’m sure you’re experiencing this as well.

We are in a fast-moving transition period which can be confusing and unsettling. However, I witness and am reminded daily of the ‘silent majority’- those who are quietly managing their anxieties and treating people with kindness.

As we transition out of the pandemic- and some of the PTSD we might have acquired along the way- each of you are welcome to continue to take measures that help you feel comfortable- wearing masks, socially distancing, wearing gloves, etc.

In this day of high politicization of almost everything- and even though we are a politically progressive organization- MOM’s will continue to have a culture that rises above fear, misinformation, and demagoguery (from both “sides”)- and remain dedicated to facts, truth, and science.  

[Here is a relevant article:

We will be in frequent communications with you as guidance changes.  

Thank you- for everything.  


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

My Year of Eating “Expired” Food

I watch a lot of nature shows. I wonder sometimes how animals are able to eat only unwashed, raw food- and drink water from pretty much any source (my dog frequently quenches her thirst from the muddy puddles in the street and my cats drink from the toilet)- without getting sick. Some animals even eat other animals that have been dead in warm weather for days.

Also, I once read a book- Jack & Rochelle– about 2 holocaust survivors who escaped into the woods of Poland and survived for years. There were times when they had to eat carrion, to avoid starvation. They did not indicate that they fell ill.

Humans are living organisms. In the end, we’re animals too. I started wondering what our capabilities to successfully digest “unsafe” food might be.

My experiment began with this yogurt.

Consumed Oct. 1st, 2016.

I have an old cabin in Virginia. One spring, I accidentally left a yogurt in the fridge. I didn’t make it back down until the fall, when this picture was taken on October 1st, 2016. Note the expiration date is March 30th, 2016. That is 6 months past the expiration date! As I began to make my fruit smoothie, the yogurt was in the corner of my eye. I opened it. It smelled fine and there was no mold. I decided to throw it into the blender. I drank and waited. No problems!

This set off increasingly emboldened instances of eating food that was past date- some of it, REALLY past date- (including meat and dairy)! This past year, I documented my journey.

[click on images to enlarge]

Everyone can agree that food waste is bad. How bad? Decide for yourself. There is a lot of information online. This report from the NRDC is the most comprehensive I could find. It sums up the serious environmental consequences of wasted food: “When food is wasted, all of the resources used to produce, store, transport, and handle that food—including arable land, labor, energy, water, chemicals, and oil—are also wasted.”

Many people are taking action to reduce food waste, but very little is being done about Food Product Dating. As someone who has spent 30+ years in the grocery business, I believe the main culprit (and the easiest way to make the most progress)- is to overhaul our Food Product Dating system and guidelines. You wouldn’t believe the number of items that are returned by customers or thrown away because of a rather arbitrary date (even donated food is required to not be past date at some food banks).

A note on a bag left on my porch for a food drive for the hungry: “Check your cupboards or shop for unexpired canned items…”

These dates can include “use by”, “best if used by”, “sell by”, “best before”, “expires by”, “freeze by”, etc. The report describes the confusion these dates create: “Although most date labels are intended as indicators of freshness and quality, many consumers mistakenly believe that they are indicators of safety.”

It seems like there are arbitrary dates on everything these days. Canned goods can be eaten YEARS after the date. But not just canned goods have dates…

Dating has now been placed on salt, lotions, shampoos, hand soaps, hair color, toothpaste (Tom’s), shaving cream, and much more. Need to wipe your baby’s butt clean? Better not use these wipes after August 3rd, 2020…

It’s gotten so out of hand, it makes me wonder about the integrity of the manufacturers- they will slap a date on just about anything these days. “Planned obsolescence” by corporations and entire industries is real. When we throw a product away, corporations profit.

I’m a staunch environmentalist. I hate waste- especially environmental waste. Especially food waste. To this day, whenever I shop, I check dates like a hawk. Except, I’m searching for the products that are closest to their arbitrary date, because I was raised to do what I can to prevent things from going to waste. My pantry is filled with dented cans, crushed boxes, and packaged products where the label has fallen off. If you were ever to come to my house for dinner, the odds are good that something on the table is expired or damaged.

Here is a picture of what my family calls, “resetting food”.  

All of this meat was past date. Some of it was perfectly fine- no odor or visual sign of being old. Some of it had an odor when it initially came out of the package (the fish!), but a quick rinse removed it. By cooking the meat, we essentially reset its freshness date- we ate what we could that night and saved the rest for later.

It’s not surprising that this gift was exchanged at the Nash Family Christmas this past year…

During the week of Thanksgiving, myself and those of us in the farming and grocery industry were greatly pained to see romaine lettuce recalled and discarded by the megaton- in what seemed to be an hysterical move by the FDA. Thousands of farmers’ livelihoods are impacted and threatened when there is such an extreme response. I served my family a large Caesar Salad on Thanksgiving, knowing that the odds of getting sick from that romaine were far less than the odds of being killed in a car accident on the way home.

I was proud that not a single family member of the dozen or so at the table (including the teenagers) passed up the salad, even though everyone knew about the recall. In my opinion, Americans and our institutions have a bona fide case of anxiety disorder when it comes to food safety.

The Food Product Dating system for food (and non-edible goods) needs to be revised. Consistency in labeling (use one term for quality such as “best by” or “for best quality, use by” and another term for food safety such as “expires by”) would create clarity. And these dates need to be set to match reality. Some items don’t need a date at all- like salt, canned goods, and baby wipes.

In the meantime, my fellow Americans (yes, we in the USA are the biggest offenders of food waste), please get informed and change your behavior. We are all responsible for making a difference- and EVERY piece of saved food counts.

Posted in business, environment, Living, waste | 66 Comments

Moms at MOM’s

Nearly 15 years ago, my wife and I had our first child.

One night soon after, I heard my wife semi-silently sobbing in our bathroom.  I walked in to find her sitting on the edge of the tub, rocking back and forth (almost in the fetal position), crying “I don’t want to leave my baby.”  This was the eve before her return to the office after taking 3 months of unpaid leave from her work as a lawyer at a Bethesda firm.

We had an in-family nanny; my wife’s sister-in-law.  Even so, with the intention of making my wife’s first day back at work a bit easier, I stayed home from work the next day.

Having a baby is an odd mix of joy and struggle.  On the joy side of things, there is no experience in life that rivals becoming a parent.  About an hour after the birth though, instincts kick into high gear and the joy gets a bit diluted by an intense focus on the care (i.e. survival) of the child.  It’s a time for the mother to recover physically, learn how to breast feed the child, and bond.  It’s an intense, high alert time no matter who you are.

Once a baby is born, many families need for both parents to continue to work- and when both parents do work, some parents find that the expense of day care is a substantial (sometimes majority) of at least one spouse’s salary.

Fast forward 15 years- as active parents, my wife and I still have very little free time.  It’s been a joyful, yet stressful period.  Of my friends with children, I don’t know any who haven’t had roughly the same experience.  Having children is an upheaval of sorts.

The US has a history of having noble priorities.  Unfortunately, I believe over the past few decades, this country’s priorities have began to shift away from families, empathy and service to others, and spiritual principles.  We now give more priority to corporations, judgement and righteous indignation, and status/wealth.

When it comes to supporting families (rather than corporations), the US ranks low.  We are required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave, while the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, and Iran offer 40, 26, 14, and 12 weeks of paid leave respectively.  The US falls short relative to other developed countries:


Much of our training program here at MOM’s revolves around reading books.  About a year ago, our female CFO read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and recommended we offer trainings on it.  It was an enlightening book for many of us.  As a result of those book sessions, a committee was formed and the group came up with a number of ideas that we’ve implemented to help working mothers.

MOM’s is proud to now offer 6 weeks of paid maternity leave to all full time employees.  We know of only one other retailer in the US who offers as much (Patagonia).  When a baby is born, families need support during this crucial and stressful period.

Posted in family, family support, maternity leave, pregnancy | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

My Fill-in-the-blank Privilege

Straight FlushOne of the more memorable movies of my childhood was Sounder.  Sounder was a dog who belonged to a poverty-stricken southern family.  A particularly heart-wrenching scene in that movie is when the father is taken to prison for stealing food to feed his family.  A recent incident at MOM’s reminded me of that scene…

There is an employee who has worked with us full-time for nearly a decade.  After doing a recent inventory, we discovered 2 particular products missing by the dozens.  They happened to be the 2 products we frequently saw this employee consuming.  We checked the receipt records and neither product had been bought by any employee for months.  And then we reviewed the security cameras and confirmed theft.

My first reactions were typical, fueled by feelings of betrayal, anger, and sadness.  But my next wave of reactions came from a place of empathy.  Everyone knows that stealing is wrong, but humans make mistakes.  For justice to prevail, context should strongly be considered when determining appropriate consequences.

To put things into context, I’ll begin with myself.  For starters, I’m pretty grateful that like all humans, I’m at the top of the food chain!  Beyond that, I am a white male, born in the US.  My parents never divorced.  My mom was a stay-at-home mom who cooked 3 square meals a day, kept our house immaculately clean and organized, and made sure that we all had routines and traditions.  My father had stable work and a decent salary as a college professor.  I used my mom’s 2-car garage to start MOM’s (my father died when I was 17).  My mom also once lent me $3,000 when I ran short of cash during the start-up phase.

I am not a woman, a minority, or homosexual.  I have never faced poverty.  I continue to reap the benefits of all of my life’s privileges.  In fact, by historical standards (going back no further than a short century), many of us in the U.S. are living like royalty.

Some might say that I deserve what I’ve got because I’ve worked hard, taken risks, and have good judgement.  But, how did I obtain a good work ethic?  Or my optimism?  Or my risk-assesment abilities and refusal to accept conventional thinking?

Science has shown us that these traits are largely dictated by our DNA- and we know that we are somewhat influenced by our external environment- the hand we’ve been dealt, so to speak.  My work ethic was definitely instilled by my parents.  I had a 365-days-per-year paper route from an early age, never received more than a $5 allowance, had to pay for all of my stuff (starting with a $35 transistor radio I bought when I was 11), and had weekly chores (of which my dad tracked with a charted point “system”).

But all of this was out of my control.  I don’t recall actively pursuing, selecting, or collecting any of these traits.  I feel as if they were always just there.

And then there is the employee who stole.  What was her childhood like?  What is her life like now?  What stresses does she feel every day that I’ve never felt in my life?  What infinitely complex formula of emotional experiences, DNA, and societal influences has made her what she is today- influencing every behavior from whether to get a college education to taking something that isn’t yours?

We terminated her.  Part of me thinks that this employee needs forgiveness and a 2nd chance- but, a lot of her honest and wonderful co-workers are undoubtedly expecting accountability from top to bottom at MOM’s.  And we must wonder in these situations: is this just the tip of the iceberg?  If this employee is stealing a little bit every day, what else is she doing (or willing to do) that we are unaware of?

Situations such as these are complex.  I generally find “zero tolerance” policies and positions to be- well, intolerant.  They seem rigid and too simplistically black and white.  The “Just Say No To Drugs” campaign comes to mind as an example of this, as it largely addressed drug use as the main problem, rather than a symptom of larger, complex problems.

It makes me sad (and sometimes mad) when people steal from MOM’s, whether employees or shoplifters, yet my challenge is to remember that there is much I don’t know. I need to strive to be objective and fair- and remember to live by the wise words: “that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.”


Posted in MOM's Organic Market, personal | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Support Your Local Dead Zone?

It’s that time of year when farmers’ markets and roadside produce stands are popping up all over.  I like to go to the Bethesda Farmers’ Market on Sunday mornings to scope out the products and farmers.  And I like that farmers’ markets serve as incubators for start-up producers, whether it be baked goods, small farms, pickles, or goat cheese.  However, there is a profound lack of organic options.

At the Bethesda Farmers’ Market, of the 14 produce vendors, only five are organic.  I cringe at the thought of chemicals being literally dumped onto local acreage polluting the beautiful Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

I visit the Northern Neck of VA frequently.  I snapped this picture of a farm that is about a 1/4 mile from the Rappahannock River.


Notice that there is nothing green on all of these acres- not a single weed.  How many tons of chemical herbicides were used on this land?

We have a tendency to romanticize the farmer- especially small and local farmers, regardless of whether they’re organic.  In a 2012 survey, Whole Foods consumers ranked “local” as more important than “organic.”  We feel that our customers prefer organic to local, with the “gold standard” being organic AND local.

My view is that unless a farmer is farming organically, he or she is part of the problem.  I’d prefer that chemical farms be as far away from this area as possible.

Posted in environment, food, local food, organic foods, water | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Ignorance is Blistering

nonGMO saltI recently came across this product and was incredibly relieved to finally find a salt that hasn’t been genetically modified (although, the “pinkness” of this salt makes me wonder if it has been spliced with the genes of salmon)!

This would be funny if this product label were a spoof, but it is real.

There are people in the world who are ignorant, and unfortunately some exist within our industry.  Ignorance often leads to fear- and sometimes fear leads to irrational hysteria.  If you think this example of salt is extreme, it isn’t. There are many products now that are unnecessarily labeled as “non-GMO.”

An informed person would know that only corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow squash, alfalfa, and papaya are grown in the US as GMO.  [Add to that list cotton, btw- how many of you are most definitely wearing non-organic GMO cotton right now- and supporting an industry that does more environmental destruction than any farmed edible plant?]

Yet, we are now seeing consumers demand that products that couldn’t possibly be GMO are tested and labeled as non-GMO.  Manufacturers are pandering to this and slapping the non-GMO label on everything from lentil pasta to cranberry juice to seaweed.  And rather than work to educate consumers on this issue, retailers are demanding that manufacturers of certified organic products also get labeled as non-GMO, even though they know that certified organic = certified GMO-free.  And frankly, I’m surprised that the non-GMO Project verified this salt at all (let alone other products that couldn’t possibly be GMO).

This unnecessary labeling is creating consumer confusion and helping to fan the flames of hysteria.

Take, for example, this not-very-unusual email I received from a customer recently.  He believes that organic products cannot be trusted and that GMO-free is top priority, even though GMO-free products can be grown with a plethora of toxic chemicals and organic products are already GMO-free:


“I buy the following bulk grains from your store:

1. Organic rolled Oats
2. Organic steel-cut Oats
3. Organic Amaranth
4. Organic Quinoa
5. Organic Mung(Moong) beans
6. Organic Black-eyed peas

Can you email me contact details of Manufacturers of above please?

I will directly contact them to get verified by NON-GMO project.
Please see the website:

They have a verification process and they have verified more than 15,000 products as NON-GMO.

There is a US law which prohibits GMO content in USDA Organic labeled products. But it is very naive to assume that this law is strictly followed for following reasons:

1. Politicians are bought by election campaign contributions and they keep USDA and FDA under-funded.

2. Because of #1, FDA can not conduct frequent enough inspections to enforce the law. In fact, some organic movement proponents think that USDA do not verify NON-GMO content for Organic products.

3. There is a revolving door between USDA, FDA and GMO businesses like Monsanto. There are definitely conflicts of interest.

4. Big companies are buying out purely organic businesses. Most of these companies have been doing GMO food business for a long time.

For example, Dean Foods has a very bad reputation for using GMO sourced seeds etc.

Earthbound Farm Organic was a very good organic business. They started in earnest and maintained good standards for a long time. They sold out to Whitewave for $600 million in December 2013. Whitewave is a spin-off of Dean Foods. Now I can not trust Earthbound Farm Organic products.

Scott, for above-mentioned reasons it makes perfect sense to use NON-GMO project verified products.

I am paying top dollars for Organic products and I want verified NON-GMO products.

Your business will lose money if you do not stock enough NON-GMO products.”

Untitled-3First of all, of the bulk items this customer is concerned about, NONE of them exist as GMOs.

Secondly, if we strive to be fair, people are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This statement is worrisome: “Earthbound Farm Organic was a very good organic business. They started in earnest and maintained good standards for a long time. They sold out to Whitewave for $600 million in December 2013. Whitewave is a spin-off of Dean Foods. Now I can not trust Earthbound Farm Organic products.”  If guilt by association were enough to convict someone of a crime, I’ll bet most of us would be in prison.

Sure, some companies have proven themselves as unethical- and as a result, cannot be trusted.  If you don’t want your shopping dollars supporting Dean, then by all means buy Olivia’s salads instead of Earthbound.  But, can we really assume that Earthbound Farms is now breaking laws and packing chemical-laden and GMO lettuces (GMO lettuce doesn’t exist, btw) simply because their parent company is looking to profit from the organic industry?  I see such tactics and misinformation all the time from fringe groups within our industry.

The science of gene splicing is being terribly misused by large agribusinesses such as Monsanto.  At MOM’s we have been demanding for years now that new products which have the potential to be GMOs be verified as non-GMO.

We are most dedicated to organic farming practices.  If a manufacturer’s product is certified organic, it gets top priority from us, so we have been phasing out many natural products when there are organic alternatives (in case you’re wondering where the Fage Greek yogurt went!).  Organic products get placed prominently on end caps and generally promoted with more shelf space and promotions. MOM’s realizes that certified organic products are far superior to non-organic, GMO-free products.  Rather than appease the lowest common denominator which demands GMO-free labeling for products that couldn’t possibly be GMO, we work to educate consumers that an organic product is a non-GMO product, but without the chemicals.

Posted in food, GMOs, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Minimum Dignity

One of the companies I admire most is Costco.  They’re not very environmental, unfortunately, but they are extremely dedicated to their employees.  Back in 2008 when the economy was in a downward spiral, Founder and CEO Jim Sinegal said that instead of looking for ways to cut costs and reduce compensation like most companies were doing, it was especially important to find ways of supporting their staff in this time of hardship.  He said, “our employees… deserve our loyalty.  They needed it just as much [in 2008] as they ever did, or more.”  Costco’s average pay rate is $21 per hour, while BJ’s average is $11 and Sam’s Club’s $12.  However, Costco is the performance leader in the club membership retail sector.


MOM’s Employees touring a recycling facility

Here at MOM’s, we’ve never paid minimum wage.  In June of 2011, MOM’s raised our minimum wage from $9 per hour to $10.  This month, we will raise it to $11 per hour.

This is not an act of charity, but rather an investment. Without a doubt, our most valuable asset here at MOM’s is our people.  Paying them more is a smart business strategy.  Any good businessman knows there is no higher ROI (return on investment) than investing in people.  Great people are more efficient, have good ideas, and have good judgment.  Customers love shopping at places with good employees.  I’d rather have 1 great than 3 decent employees.

Raising the minimum wage would also raise the “status” of retail jobs, making them more viable as a career choice rather than short-term or a necessity.  But raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do for so many other reasons:

  • There is the issue of fairness.  A parent with 2 kids who works full time at the minimum wage lives below the poverty line.  For all of the complaining people do about those who don’t pull their own weight, it is hypocritical of such people to oppose raising full time workers above the poverty line.
  • Similar to a child who struggles in school because he has a tough home life, I believe that when people are stressed in their personal lives, it negatively impacts their work performance.  Raising the minimum wage will improve worker performance unilaterally, as basic needs are met.
  • The existing minimum wage leads to corporate welfare.  Large retailers like Walmart and McDonald’s pay minimum wage.  Many of their employees, even though they’re working full time, are on government assistance programs.  Basically, the entitlement programs that people complain so much about subsidize the low-paid employees of large corporations.  If you want to shrink the government, make the corporations pay a fair wage.  For example, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 will reduce between 3.3 and 3.8 million people from enrolling in the tax payer funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Other public programs such as Medicaid, EITC, and TANF would be similarly affected.
  • Paying the low and lower-middle class a higher wage will immediately help the economy.  If you give more money to rich people, they’re not going to spend it.  They’ll horde it.  When money lands in the hands of minimum wage earners, consumption immediately increases.  As they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
  • I read a great quote recently from a CEO of a company- “For CEOs to take credit for job creation is like a squirrel taking credit for evolution.”  I won’t hire anyone unless people buy our product.  The consumer is solely responsible for job creation.  Contrary to what many CEOs in opposition are claiming, raising the minimum wage will actually create jobs, not cut them.

$11 an hour is just the next step for us here at MOM’s- and as we continue to improve our workforce, we will continue to raise wages even higher.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine perfectly outlines the case for raising the minimum wage (and at 2:56, mentions MOM’s!).

When I started MOM’s almost 27 years ago, I used to think that I could do everything the best and that the handful of employees I had were there to simply take instructions and do what I say.  This past decade or so, I’ve come realize that not only was I wrong about that, but that I play a rather insignificant part in MOM’s success.

The people here at MOM’s have accomplished great things.  They’re smart, dedicated, and they move MOM’s forward, helping to accomplish our Purpose to protect and restore the environment.  They have taught me to have great faith in people and to understand their value.

Posted in business, MOM's Organic Market | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Save the Dandelions

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 10.14.38 AMSociety evolves, albeit sometimes slowly.  I am 49 years old.  There are things happening now that I would not have predicted when I was young.  Aside from the fact that gasoline is unleaded, DDT is banned, and there is more truth in advertising (cigarettes were once advertised as being good for us), we have a black President.  Gays can marry.  Whole Foods and Tesla are darlings of Wall Street.  When I fly towards the west or go hiking in Maine, I see huge wind farms.  Healthcare is finally available to all.

At the beginning of all of these movements are a select few of deemed “radicals,” people with courage and foresight to challenge the status quo.  I feel like I’ve been surrounded by such people my entire life.  My parents thought rather radically and associated with like-minded people.

I’ve been sensing an upswell of radical opposition to, of all things, lawns.  I blogged about the topic a couple of years ago here and here.

When hurricane Isabel roared through the DC region back in 2003, over a dozen large trees fell in my wooded yard.  The lot was already somewhat of a mess with invasive English ivy smothering everything.  The previous owners planted bramble everywhere.

I had a minuscule lawn and 2 kids with 1 on the way.  I decided it was time to clear it all out (leaving the existing trees) and put down grass seed to hold the ground.  In the spring we spread seed and hay and I naively called a lawn care company to get my lawn started.  I signed a contract for a year’s service.  Sometime in June, after a few “applications” and some rainfall, I walked out onto my patio and slipped and fell.  There was algae growing everywhere.  My grass was turning dark green.

Blog_lawn_water1I realized then that I’d been paying for a plethora of unneeded chemical applications that were hurting the environment.  I never put anything on my lawn ever again, and I started to take notice of the industry and our assumptions about lawns in general.  I cringe when I see those little signs on yards telling us that’s Blog_lawn_chemicals2chemicals have been applied.

Maybe lawns are important to so many because they’re seen as status symbols, similar to what Blog_lawn_Europ1seems like other affluent suburban anxieties over who drives the most luxurious car, who lives in the biggest house, where our kids go to college, what top sports league our kids play in, even what fancy breed of dog we walk.  Regardless, the world would be better off if certain industries were to go bankrupt.  I’m Blog_lawn_Scrutiny1adding lawn care to that list.

MOM’s is taking action this month as we launch our Save the Dandelions campaign to educate people about the impact of chemical lawns.  From March 15-23, we will collect any unwanted lawn chemicals from customers and safely Blog_lawn_car1dispose of them; we will be educating our customers about the negative environmental impacts of lawn chemicals; and we will launch an advertising campaign to shift public perception towards embracing imperfect, natural yards.  Save the Dandelions!

Posted in environment, home, Lawn, water | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Why is Walmart so expensive?

kicking-the-can-down-the-roadIn my eternal scan of the Internet for MOM’s data and feedback, I came across this blogger’s post: Why is MOM’s Organic Market so expensive?  I hear this question in one form or another all the time.  If you read reviews of MOM’s on Yelp, Google, etc., there is always someone who gives us a low rating because we’re “too expensive.”  For example, “The staff is very friendly and helpful, but the prices are a little high,” and “If you’re into paying high prices for their so-called organic food, then come here. It’s been proven that organic foods are not as healthy as regular food, cannot be proven to be organic, and they don’t taste better. So convince yourself in believing in the organic hype and shop here.  My rating would be lower except they do have a lot of produce, even if it’s overpriced hype.”

MOM’s has a price guarantee, which states that on all same-branded packaged products, we will cost the same or less than Whole Foods and other natural foods stores.  A couple of years ago, Consumer Checkbook did a 3rd party survey of our prices and found us to be 7% less than Whole Foods and 4% less than Wegman’s.  Our own internal data now even shows us to be approximately 10% less than Whole Foods.  So I believe that when people say that we are expensive, for the most part they’re saying that organic foods are expensive, not MOM’s in particular (or they’re misinformed, because sometimes they do claim we’re more expensive than Whole Foods or Wegman’s).

Rather than ask why is MOM’s expensive, I think we should ask why are Walmart, Safeway, etc. so expensive?

Take for example, a headline that came across my computer last week:

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 10.52.07 AM

I realize that the 2 chemicals banned aren’t used specifically for food production (they’re being used to control mosquitoes), but it’s one example of the many hidden costs of what are assumed to be “solutions” to problems.

A friend of mine drove the Eastern Shore last weekend touring the local oyster farming industry.  He ran into some poultry farmers while he was down there, and they are up in arms over the new proposed Poultry Fair Share Act, which will charge tax to large chicken suppliers of 5 cents per chicken.  The tax will be paid to the Bay Restoration Fund and used to fund cover crop programs on lands where chicken manure was applied, i.e. to clean up the havoc that the poultry industry constantly wreaks on the Chesapeake’s ecosystem.  Since the industry won’t spend the money to clean up after its own mess, the government is forced to step in and do it for them.

Using chemicals to grow non-organic food hastens climate change.  The carbon footprint of fertilizer production and delivery is substantial, estimated at over 1,200 million metric tons per year in the US alone.  As weather patterns become more severe and unexpected (hurricanes, droughts, flooding), there is a large cost in many categories, including crop losses and infrastructure damage.

Pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics are currently used on 99% of American farmland.  These chemicals contaminate our waterways, often impacting other industries (like crabs and oysters here in the Chesapeake).  Inevitably, environmental groups, other industries, and taxpayers are left holding the bill to clean up the mess.

Entire species can become threatened, as has recently happened with honeybee and Monarch Butterfly populations. Honeybee CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) is thought to be linked to the traces of pesticides in high-fructose corn syrup.  Sharp decreases in Monarch Butterfly populations are being linked to GMOs.  This has cost the honey industry and farmers billions of dollars in loss production due to pollination deficiencies.

Along with the decades of increases in carcinogenic chemical residues in our food, cancer rates have  increased.  Not only does this lead to human suffering, but the medical costs make insurance rates higher for us all.

Conventional foods often have high-calorie, nutrient-deficient ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and white flour.  Obesity rates have risen dramatically from 13% to 35% since 1960, which leads to more cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  The estimated costs to the healthcare system of these ailments are $190 billion annually.

The conventional industry receives massive amounts of government subsidies (corporate welfare) while the organic industry receives virtually nothing.  The new Farm Bill allots taxpayers to pay out $956 billion over the next ten years to highly profitable agribusiness such as Tyson, Monsanto, and Cargill.  We taxpayers are subsidizing them to do the wrong thing.

Corporate America will forever work its hardest to keep Big Government off their backs, but who’s going to keep Big Corporations off our backs?  It would be nice if the free market would fix this- and if average consumers were informed enough to consider the hidden costs of products and shop accordingly.  But this isn’t going to happen any time soon, if ever (especially considering the constant bombardment of misinformation put out by large corporations).

The burden to society caused by conventional farming is constantly deferred to other industries, citizens, taxpayers, and non-profits.  The lower price of conventional foods reflects these deferred hidden costs.  Those who buy conventional foods over organics because they’re cheaper, selfishly do so- happy to kick the can down the road to those of us who keep informed, continue to recognize hidden costs, and keep doing the next right thing.

Posted in environment, food, GMOs, MOM's Organic Market, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Selling In

I see headlines like this all the time, carrying news that another independently owned and operated organic company has either sold to a private equity (PE)  investment group (think Bain Capital) or to a large corporation like Campbell Soup (in this case, Plum Organics has done both- private equity in 2010 and Campbell Soup in 2013).

Sustainable Food NewsPrivate equity firm to sell No. 2 organic baby food brand to multinational

Campbell Soup spent $600,000 to fight GE food labeling efforts, now buys Plum Organics seeking to ‘shift center of gravity.’

About 2 weeks ago, Earthbound Farm was purchased by White Wave, which is owned by Dean Foods.

Independently-owned companies are becoming fewer, and stick out among the crowd. The only large company in the natural foods industry that is still independently owned that I can think of is Trader Joe’s (around $8 billion, and I barely consider them a member of the natural foods industry, let alone the organic industry).  The founders (the Albrecht family) also own conventional discount grocer Aldi’s.  I get the feeling that the smaller, independent, family-owned companies have the ultimate goal of cashing in and are just waiting to get big enough.  This seems to be the trend.

I was at the Organic Trade Association’s annual gala in September (I am an OTA board member). Each year, we give awards to industry pioneers.  This year’s winners included Arran and Ratana Stephens, who founded Nature’s Path.  Arran specifically said (before launching into song, btw!), “to my friends in the investment community, we are not for sale and we never will be.”  He was asked who he admires in the industry.  He paused and said, “Most of the people whom I’ve admired have sold out, sometimes much to their own regret.”  This really stood out to me, as Nature’s Path is now a $100 million company. The Stephens would get a lot of money if they sold.

In the retail sector, there is a well-run substantial co-op chain ($250M in annual sales) on the west coast called PCC Markets.  Being a co-op, they are obviously not owned by a private-equity group or a big corporation, but they’re not really independently owned either.  I think Jimbo’s on the west coast is still owned by Jimbo, so there’s one.

Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Sunflower Farmers Markets, Sprouts, Natural Grocers/Vitamin Cottage, Mrs. Green’s- none of these companies are independently owned and operated anymore.  Whole Foods has purchased independent Mrs. Gooch’s, Bread and Circus, Wild Oats, Harry’s Farmer’s Markets, Wellspring, and Food For Thought.

Even local companies like Sweetgreen and Honest Tea are now partially owned by a PE group or owned by a large corporation, respectively.

With MOM’s rather rapid expansion, the PE groups are starting to call.  About a year ago, I received a call from the former CEO of 7-Eleven (and Blockbuster Video), who now represents Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa investment group.  He asked me to “seriously consider selling MOM’s” to them.  After listening to their plans, I suggested that the concept they are trying to launch is similar to what Tesco was doing with Fresh and Easy on the west coast- and I expressed concern that it wouldn’t work.  I never heard back from them but, a year later (this past fall), they purchased about 200 defunct Fresh and Easy locations from Tesco.

Earlier this year, I received a call from yet another PE group, this time represented by the former CEO of Borders Books. I told them that I appreciate and am flattered by their interest, but that I’m not interested. The PE groups insist that we need their money, talent, and Rolodex to take advantage of opportunity before competitors enter the market and MOM’s becomes obsolete.

My Leadership Team works and communicates so well together- and they’re so good at identifying problems and finding solutions. I think we’re capable, more capable than most of the advisors at PE firms actually, of growing MOM’s regionally/nationally and of further accomplishing our Purpose to protect and restore the environment.

If I were ever to sell MOM’s, I’d have to have a plan to do fulfilling work in the aftermath- and to do good with the proceeds. I could see taking on projects like building a wind farm or cleaning up the Chesapeake watershed, but the wonderful thing about MOM’s is that I can retain ownership and control and we can still accomplish such goals.

And what about the wonderful community and culture we’ve built here at MOM’s? Regardless of my ambitions, I’d feel responsible for keeping that intact, which would be left to chance if I weren’t running the company.

E-Cycle 2013 - Rockville, Maryland - MOM's Organic Market

Here’s the thing: I love running MOM’s. It’s challenging and it’s work I love doing. The community here is amazing. I enjoy my co-workers. Our customers are fantastic. The people we buy from are truly partners. And my work has purpose.

Regardless, the temptation to sell is real. Some people sell and never have to work again. While we’re told by society throughout our lives that this is the ultimate goal, my gut is telling me that I wouldn’t be happy- and I think many people who chase the big payout find the experience anticlimactic at best, depressing at worst.

I believe the bigger MOM’s is, the better for the world (Does Big = Bad?).  If MOM’s becomes a national company, then we’ll be able to have an even greater positive impact on the environment. The only way I could see us “selling out” is if we hit a ceiling in capital and talent and our growth becomes stunted, but so far MOM’s is doing great without outside help- and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, if ever.

Posted in business, MOM's Organic Market, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments