Equality for Non-Smokers

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 12.48.39 PMWe recently launched an internal anti-smoking initiative.  Our goal is not to lobby MOM’s employees to quit smoking, but to ensure that non-smoking employees are treated fairly.

For years, my office was either at the produce prep sink and/or in the back of the store.  I began to notice that some employees would go outside for a few minutes to smoke.  There was something inherently unfair about this, so I told them they needed to punch out for smoke breaks.

Back then, I was in charge of payroll- and it wasn’t automated.  I had to calculate everyone’s weekly hours by calculator.  Suddenly, calculating payroll was taking much longer, as some employees had 10+ “shifts” per day from all of their smoke breaks.  I felt like I was chasing my tail with this issue.

A recent study done by the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control suggests that smokers cost a company $5,816 per year due to costs of on-the-clock smoke breaks, excess healthcare, excess absenteeism, productivity loss due to withdrawal symptoms, and a disruption of focus and project momentum during numerous breaks.  But there’s more, which makes me think that the hidden cost is even higher than $5,816…

I’ve found that morale plummeted in stores where our management smoked. Employees lost respect for supervisors who were smoking instead of working.  They felt that others who smoked with (or without) the managers got special treatment.  The smokers were sometimes out of earshot of our paging system, so they weren’t able to help in a pinch.  This left the non-smokers to fend for themselves no matter how urgently help was needed.

Sometimes smokers would come off break and smell like smoke.  Not a pleasant experience for any customer.

Employees seen smoking by customers was terrible for our image.  Back in 1987 right before I started MOM’s (then called Organic Foods Express), I used to work at Organic Farms Inc.  It was an organic produce distributor open to the public on weekends.  I remember customers whispering the dirty little secret about Organic Farms- the owner smoked cigarettes.  This led them to believe he wasn’t committed to health and organic foods.

People have the right to be wrong, hurt themselves, and make mistakes.  These things are a normal part of the human experience (and a free society).  But, as the old saying goes- “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

Posted in business, MOM's Organic Market | Tagged , , , , , | 32 Comments

Misfortune

Fortune Magazine recently came out with their Fortune 500 list of the largest companies in the United States.  It’s worth noting the domination of companies “fueled” by the auto industry, as they represent 6 of the top 10 largest companies:

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 8.23.28 AM

Exxon was started in 1870 by John D. Rockefeller.  An entire industry and really, a way of life, was created as a result.

How many trillions of dollars in profits have been made since? And how many trillions of pounds of CO2 have been released into the atmosphere?

The auto/petroleum industry is the most powerful on the planet.  There are disrupter industries coming onto the scene- like electric cars and solar and wind energy.  They are gaining traction and we must support them to the fullest extent we are able, but this is a large ship and it’s going to take a lot of effort to turn it around.

Wind-Farm

Regardless of the feat at hand, I find great comfort in knowing that there are millions of consumers like us who are unrelenting and have faith that we will eventually create a new, sustainable world.

Posted in business, cars, energy, fossil fuels | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

No Shoes, No Shirt, Great Service

I love my job for many reasons.  One of the main reasons is that I am constantly bombarded with information, data, and opinions from customers and employees.  This puts me in the fortunate position to learn.  As many of us realize, the best part about being alive is learning.

bare feet

It’s summer time, so I’m going to share some customer feedback and let one of our many wonderful customers write my blog post for me (unbeknownst to him!).  Shortly after receiving his email, we reversed our “no shoes” policy…

To whom it may concern,

I’ve been a customer at your stores for 7 years. I really like your store, as it has great a great selection of natural and organic products. Lately, I was told that I can not come into the store unless I had shoes on by an employee. I was told that I had to wear shoes for my safety. I have no problem with any other store in the area, such as Lauer’s Super Market, Safeway, Walmart, etc. in terms of being barefoot. I really do like your store, but I am getting to point where I would rather just go to another store than have to deal with being told that I have to put shoes on. I just don’t want to be hassled in that way.

Being barefoot, for me, is a lifestyle choice I made 2 years ago as a means to improve my health, and it works.  The only time I have anything at all on my feet is when I deem it necessary to protect them from injury such as on construction site or at work. I hike trails and roads and I drive barefoot and go to many other stores and restaurants in the area barefoot without prejudice.

And prejudice it is when you employ a no shoes, no shirt policy. It has no logical basis at all. At the time the no shirt, no shoes, no service sign came in existence, in the late ’60s, it was designed to keep hippies out of stores. Plain and simple- prejudice against a certain group of people. The concept is antiquated.

There is no law regarding footwear or lack of for customers in a retail establishment. There is virtually no chance of liability from a barefoot customer getting injured in your store, because being barefoot, in itself, is seen as a voluntary choice on the part of a barefoot person who acknowledges a certain level of risk in doing so. Also, a habitually barefoot person KNOWS where his feet are and is more aware of their surroundings and the surface they walk on than people who habitually wear shoes. There is a much greater risk to you by allowing flip flops or high heels on your stores. Check with your legal department on the number of lawsuits from people that wear shoes vs. barefoot. There have been virtually no barefoot injury related law suits filed in the US in the last 100 years vs. thousands from shod customers.

I would like you to rescind your anti-barefoot policy as I do like the selection in your stores. I just can not do business with a company that has an ingrained policy based on myths and prejudice that, while they want my money, is disrespectful of my personal lifestyle choices.

Sincerely,

XXX

Posted in Living, MOM's Organic Market | Tagged , , , , , , , | 63 Comments

A Germaphobe’s Journey

germs

I was brought up in a house where the smell of bleach was quite common.  As a family, we always used separate utensils for serving food and never shared drinks or ate off each other’s plates.  If a grape fell on the floor, it was discarded.  My mom put bleach in the dishwasher.  Mom still bleaches her dishes and whips out a bottle of Purell faster than a quickdraw gun fight in a western movie.

Over the years, my wife has been quick to point out how irrational it is that I won’t drink out of her water glass (or let her drink out of mine), but I will kiss her.

I do all of the cooking in my house.  I love to cook and was brought up valuing family meals with high quality food.  But, I think one of the reasons why I’ve always cooked for myself (and now my family) is because others’ cleanliness standards were below mine.

Over the past few years, I’ve experienced a transformation.  I’ve now boomeranged over to the Dark (dirty) Side.  I eat off my kids’ plates.  I eat stuff that’s fallen on the ground.  I share drinks.  I eat snacks that have been tainted with grubby kids’ fingers.  I eat my meat and seafood even more rare than before.  My eggs are now over VERY easy.

I no longer view germs as the enemy, or at least I no longer view them as intruders that my body can’t easily defeat.  Sure, bacteria is sometimes deadly, but my gut-feel risk analysis tells me I’ll be OK.

My defection has been more of a journey than an event.  It started years ago with a book I read called Eat, Drink, and Be Merry by Dr. Dean Edell.  The premise is that people need to relax more about the threat of germs and disease- worrying is actually bad for our health.   He provides data and examples of Americans’ hysteria over bacteria- and how the media and the medical profession has fueled this frenzy.  [For some very interesting excerpts, see below in the comments section.]

I was pushed further towards the Dark Side when, on a recent car trip, we were showing our kids the Cosmos series on the car TV.  In an episode called “One Voice In The Cosmic Fugue” Carl Sagan explains: due to billions of years of natural selection, life has thrived.  The human race and all organisms today represent 4 billion years of perfect evolutionary adaptation.  In a nutshell, I now trust and have confidence in my body’s immune system.

Last week, I received a timely and very interesting email from a customer:

Hi Scott,

I am typically on my own in the store and thus rarely have need of a restroom, but I used the one there for the first time last week. While I did note that the soap there is apparently “Triclosan free,” I question why MOMs is reinforcing the use of “antibacterial” soap at all? As a researcher and health and safety advocate, I’ve been frustrated by antibacterial products on the market now for more than a decade. You probably know that antibacterial soap, whether Triclosan or other, cleans no better than regular soap. While your store may be choosing a better and safer antibacterial product than that available in the mainstream, using harsh and dangerous endocrine disrupting chemicals like Triclosan and similar, I’d really like to see informed locations like MOMs… going further to actively educate their customer base about the choice.

The customer included several links about the harmful effects of antibacterial agents. NIH investigators found that triclosan impairs heart muscle function; the American Medical Association suggested in 2000 that use of anti-microbials be discontinued; an effort to ban triclosan was introduced to the American Public Health Association.  The Minnesota government won’t even buy antibacterial products anymore!

CleanWellIn MOM’s store bathrooms, we use hand soap with natural antibacterial thyme oil.  This soap is effective, safe and shows that there are alternatives to the harsh chemicals contained in many hand soaps.  While I don’t think it’s particularly necessary for our soap to be antibacterial (even if all-natural and Triclosan-free), I think this is a good compromise.

Thanks to this customer, soon there will be signs posted in all MOM’s bathrooms that urge people to think twice before using conventional antibacterials in their hand soap.

Posted in Living, MOM's Organic Market | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Good News, Bad News, Who Knows?

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about unapproved GMO wheat that was found on an Oregon farm.  At this point it’s a big mystery how this happened, as this particular GMO wheat was last tested by Monsanto in a ‘controlled’ setting in 2005.

From what I’ve observed so far, most in the organic industry are initially viewing this as a potentially catastrophic event, claiming that drift from GMOs is more widespread than we previously thought and that GMO contamination of organic fields is inevitable.

wheat

Indeed, it is quite unsettling that this wheat has so randomly turned up- and makes me wonder how (in the hell!?) the courts have yet to make Monsanto and others who hold the patents to GMO crops liable for cross-contamination.

However, is this incident bad news?  It feels like it.  Our first reaction to news like this is usually based on fear- fear of the unknown.  But to know if something is truly bad, time must pass.This classic story of the Chinese rice farmer illustrates this point perfectly…

A farmer’s only horse ran away. The neighbors, trying to console him, said, “What terrible news about your horse. What will you do?” But the farmer said, “Bad news, good news… who knows?”

A few days later, the horse returned, leading an entire herd of wild horses. The neighbors exclaimed, “How wonderful!” The farmer replied, “Good news, bad news… who knows?”

The next day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the new horses. The horse threw the son, who broke both legs. The neighbors said, “What a misfortune! Your son won’t be able to work on the farm.” The farmer stood still and said, “Bad news, good news… who knows?”

Within the week, news of a war had broken out.  Soldiers arrived in the village, taking new recruits.  All the young men were drafted to fight, except for the farmer’s son.

From the WaPo article:

“The discovery could have far-reaching implications for the U.S. wheat industry if the growth of the engineered product turns out to be far-flung. Many countries around the world will not accept imports of genetically modified foods, and the United States exports about half of its wheat crop.”

cargoI contend that this event could actually be good news- it could be a paradigm shift that favors the non-GMO movement.  As an entire commodity industry is now threatened with losing its export business, we in the organics industry could be gaining some substantial allies.  Cargill, for example, might be quite concerned at this point, as they are responsible for 25% of the US’s grain exports.  Imagine Cargill’s export lobby and Monsanto’s GMO lobby battling against each other….

Good news?  Bad news?  Who Knows?

Posted in business, environment, food, GMOs, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Certifiably Uncertified

A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with MOM’s Grocery Director about some products that we don’t carry.  She said something that caught my attention- that there’s a faction within the organic industry that considers itself “too cool to be organic.” A growing number of farmers and artisan producers feel like their products are “beyond organic”- and that going through the process of third-party organic certification is a wasted effort.

Kathleen Merrigan, one of the organic farming industry’s most stalwart supporters, retired last Friday, May 3rd.  As she departed, she wrote in the National Organic Program’s most recent newsletter about her biggest fear for the future of organics:

KathleenMerrigan“I could list out many challenges and opportunities facing organic agriculture, but as I head out the door, I want you to know the one issue that weighs heavily on my mind,” she wrote. “I meet too many young people who think organic status is insufficient or not relevant to them. They claim to be ‘beyond organic’, ‘natural’, better than organic, ‘authentic.’

“They worry about the paperwork, fees, and being regulated by government. We must change this trend. I wish I had an hour to spend with each one of these budding farmers to explain the history of the organic farming movement and why it is important to act collectively. What we have done together is bigger than any one person or organization. What we have done together has mattered.”

I can relate to these young farmers and producers.  As the owner of MOM’s, I’ve come across some regulations over the years that are rather ridiculous, seemingly created by bureaucrats who make a living out of over-thinking everything.  This results in a plethora of minutiae-based regulations that cater to the lowest common denominator.

However, I realize that no set of regulations is going to be perfect.  Some people and organizations will find fault with the organic certification process and standards, so they choose to throw the baby out with the bath water by not participating.  Even worse, some say the organic standards aren’t good enough, so they form a circular firing squad and actively attack the entire certification process.

For the organic movement to continue to grow, we are going to have to realize that perfect is the enemy of good, that not everyone can be pleased.  To be effective, we need to adhere to a common set of less-than-perfect standards.  Those who farm organically but opt out of the certification process are making it easier on themselves, but they are hurting our movement… the same movement that is able to exist because of these uniform standards and certification processes.

When shopping at farmers markets, roadside stands, or buying local or artisan products, please consider the value and power of collective action; give priority to those who go through the organic certification process.  They are selflessly investing in our industry.

Posted in food, local food, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Scott Fights Scotts

There’s a creek that runs through my neighborhood.  I walk it frequently.  I consider myself the unofficial keeper of this creek, as I uproot invasive mustard plants and pick up dozens of bags of trash along a mile stretch of the creek.  photo (9)

Yesterday evening, my son and I were walking our dog along the creek.  My son caught a frog in his net. image

I don’t know if they’re a native species, but there are patches of these stunning flowers all along the creek.image (1)

We saw a great blue heron, a kingfisher, a pair of nesting mallards, and this barred owl: image (2)

I recently saw a large fish that swam and looked like a trout (I’ve seen trout in rivers in CO).  A couple of days later, I saw a similar fish dead in the water.

On our walk last night, I came across some algae blooms. photo (10)

Algae is caused by excess nitrogen from lawn fertilizers and chokes the oxygen out of our waterways, making it difficult for other marine life to thrive. If you happen to fly into National Airport, take a look down at the Potomac River and you’ll see vast swaths of algae blooms.

As I walk in my neighborhood and drive through others, I am astounded at how many people put chemicals on their lawns, chemicals that are killing our creeks and rivers and hurting the Chesapeake.

I remember years ago almost falling out of my chair when I saw this ad by The Chesapeake Club:

I thought its message was one that would reach the mainstream and at least get people to skip adding chemicals in the spring – and bring attention to the fact that lawn chemicals do indeed hurt the Bay.

Scotts Lawn Care ads have shown up on my facebook page this past month.  When I first saw an ad, I shook my head, thinking “here is yet another industry that I’d like to see eliminated.”  (Others include coal, bottled water, and to a large extent, petroleum.)

Then I started to read the comments and was surprised and delighted that there are many others who feel the same as I do: Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 11.08.35 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 10.07.41 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 10.07.59 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 11.12.29 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 11.13.45 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-12 at 11.17.23 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 11.01.32 AM

My friend, Matt Logan, is president of a group called Potomac Riverkeeper.  I suggested to him early this week that we team up to do something about the lawncare chemical industry’s saturation of chemicals on lawns.  I was pleasantly surprised when he sent me an article showing that a law in MD was passed in 2009 that somewhat limits the application of lawn chemicals (the legislation generally copied Annapolis’ existing law).

Regulating the supply is a good start.  The next step is to decrease demand by educating consumers and changing their behaviors.  Please join this campaign to save the Chesapeake watershed – and take comfort in knowing that there are many on board already.

Posted in bugs/animals, environment, home, Lawn, Living, nature, water | Tagged , , , , | 48 Comments

Man Walks Dog, Terrorizes Neighborhood

When my wife and I were looking for a house to buy 15 years ago, I told her about a rule I had: the “let-the-dog-out-without-worrying-about-it-getting-hit-by-a-car” rule.  I wasn’t even sure we’d ever get a dog, but figured this rule would also apply to future kids.  Our neighborhood has large yards, lots of trees/forest, and all streets are dead ends.  

photo (12)

About 2 years ago, we did indeed get that dog.

Meet Winnie

Meet Winnie

When I was a kid, the friendly dogs went free, following the pack of roaming kids.  In these past 2 years, I’ve discovered the world of dog-ownership has changed a great deal…

SCANDAL #1:  I let my dog walk off leash.  She’s half whippet and half black lab.  She was made to run.  As we walk she chases squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and fox.  She will never catch a fox.  I don’t think she really wants to catch a deer.  But she has hit the lottery a couple of times and caught a squirrel and 2 chipmunks.  She is extremely obedient (thank you previous owners, whoever you are!).  I can literally snap my fingers and she’s at my side – or better yet, call “Winnie, come!” and she jerks in my direction like I yanked hard on a tight leash.  I don’t let her approach pedestrians or other dogs, because I know that those people don’t know whether my dog is friendly.  However, I know from the harsh glares of some of the neighbors (even other dog owners), a lecture I once received from a neighbor, and some whispers I’ve heard through the neighborhood grapevine, that I am considered a menace by quite a few people.

SCANDAL #2:  I cut through some neighbors’ yards.  I take my dog through the woods, as I walk along a creek often picking up trash.  To get back to my neighborhood, I need to cut through some neighbors’ backyards.  I made the mistake of doing this while one of our older neighbor’s kids was visiting and doing yardwork.  She was in the front yard and as I came walking out of her driveway and on to the street, I said “Hi.”  She was about 40′-50′ away, yet physically startled and exclaimed, “Oh!”  My dog followed behind me as we entered the street.  Less than 2 weeks have passed since then and I can tell that this was a traumatic experience for my neighbor’s daughter, as this “no trespassing” sign has since been posted.

photo (5)

The elderly woman who lives there is as sweet as can be.  I wonder if she knows that this sign is there?

I had a similar experience with a neighbor when we first got our cat and let her outside.  She “escaped” (or in retrospect, “went”) into our neighbor’s bamboo.  A woman, who was also visiting her elderly mom, came running out asking me who I was and what I was doing on their property.  I guess it didn’t help settle her nerves that at the time I was in my bathrobe and slippers.

SCANDAL #3:  And this is a big one… I don’t pick up my dog’s poop.  I get that we, being a civilized society and all, don’t want dog poop lying around in places where we might step – places like sidewalks, walkways, or an entire yard of any house with kids.  But when did we become so generally rigid that we need to strictly control where animals poop outside?!?

In this neighborhood we have herds of deer, fox, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, birds, and cats pooping all over the place.  What is it about a dog’s poop that drives people into a rage – turning neighbor against neighbor?  I’ve trained my dog to poop in the woods, in ivy, or in areas where I’m very, very certain nobody is going to walk.

Our closest neighbor has 3 dogs and generally lets them poop wherever.  Their German shepherd was pooping right at the bottom of our stairs where our kids frequently run.  We politely asked them to keep an eye on their dog – and that pooping anywhere but there is fine.

Apparently, a dog pooped in a neighbor’s yard across the street…

blog_pic

Honestly, I think it was our dog’s poop (however, rumor has it from a dog-walking neighbor who saw the offending poop pile, that it was the poop of a big dog, so my wife thinks it might have been the German shepherd).  In the 10 years that our neighbor has lived there, I recall seeing them in their front yard twice – once to put up a bird box and once to plant a tree.  They are empty nesters.  A lawn service cuts their lawn.

In all my years growing up with dogs roaming all over the place, I never once recall a grown-up making a fuss over where a dog pooped.  Now, it feels like people are obsessed with it.

Maybe this a symptom of something good – and what happens in an area like Montgomery County, where life has become so good and easy for so many that dog etiquette is a big deal?  I think of my childhood days growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in PG County, when kids and dogs roamed free for hours on end, neighbors knew and helped each other, and we suffered together through real problems.

Posted in bugs/animals, home, Living, nature, personal | 86 Comments

The Powerful Organic Consumer

trainIn this past Sunday’s Washington Post, there was an article in which Whole Foods’ co-CEO Walter Robb was interviewed on their decision to require labeling of GMO products in 5 years.

WF’s decision is a game changer.  There have been many efforts to push for legislation to require labeling- and there are now ballot initiatives in multiple states pushing for GMO labeling- but the consumers couldn’t wait that long!

In the interview, Robb speaks frequently of the consumers’ influence in their decision…

As we began to look at our position, I think it became clear that this was a step that we needed to take. Fundamentally, [customers] were right about the fact that food should be labeled so that they had the right to choose.

…the encouragement of our customers — it all led to us saying this is the step we need to take as a company.

Would you sell products that have GMO ingredients that are labeled? Or would you prefer to be a completely GMO-free store? Is that the end goal?  “It’s our customers who are going to make those choices. We’re just going to put a label on it and let people make their decisions.

For customers who want the non-GMO choices, they can choose right now. Organic, by law, doesn’t allow GMO technologies.

The FDA has made their decision [that GMO crops are “substantially equivalent” to traditional crops], but it obviously has not satisfied people, hence all the activism around this.

WF deserves much credit in that they listened to the consumers and responded.  However, the real force of influence is The People.

We are fortunate that Whole Foods exists.  They are a $12 billion behemoth and a real avenue for change.  With their massive size (and influence), they have the ability to dictate to the entire industry such edicts.  But they are mostly a reflection of the consumers’ desires and demands.  In the end, it is you, the consumer, who deserves the lion’s share of the credit.

Posted in food, GMOs, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Family Dinners, A Family Value

me and my sister, circa '86 or so

me and my sister, circa ’86 or so

People are usually surprised to learn when I tell them that even though MOM’s typical store footprint is about 1/4 the size of a typical Whole Foods store, our average purchase is about 20% higher.  Our customers buy much more per shopping trip.

Why?  Because our customers by and large buy ingredients to make meals for the week, rather than buy the meals themselves.  MOM’s keeps growing, but trends are heading in the opposite direction, as modern culture’s priorities shift and people’s lives become more hectic.

When I was a child, the sounds and smells of an active kitchen were very comforting.  I would sometimes visit the kitchen to see what was going on.  I don’t remember a single instruction from my mother about how to cook, but somehow I learned, seemingly through osmosis.

My family ate together multiple times per week.  This brought a routine to my otherwise confusing and unpredictable childhood.  I learned much about current events.  My father in particular loved to debate with my older siblings at the table, so I learned how to think critically.  Such benefits have been well-documented.*  I was lucky in that my mom had the opportunity to stay home and chose to sacrifice her career and apply her organization skills and good work ethic for the direct benefit of her family.

It is not easy cooking meals and eating together as a family.  It takes planning, time, work, and the courage to say “no” to a world around us that is speeding up.  Today, I admire not only the stay-at-home parents who make such sacrifices, but also the incredible dedication of families with 2 working parents who are still able to pull off this feat.  Food and The Family are such important parts of some of our lives- and I feel that MOM’s has become an outpost for those people whose priorities are becoming increasingly less mainstream.

*[I believe some of these statistics are somewhat unscientific, however… eating dinner together might be more of a symptom (vs. a cause) of a family who has other qualities and values that are beneficial to children- like a 2-parent household, an emphasis on structure, good priorities, working one well-paying job instead of 2 low-paying jobs, etc.]

Posted in food, Living, MOM's Organic Market, personal | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments