Natural Foods Merchandiser

Store At Base Of Tetons Committed To Community And Organics

Each summer, visitors from around the world pass through the resort town of Jackson, Wyo., on their way to hike or paddle in Grand Teton National Park and view wildlife and geysers in Yellowstone National Park. Once tourists leave Jackson and head into the parks, the only food options are convenience stores and lodge restaurants offering more game and chuck-wagon fare than healthy choices. So Harvest Organic Foods, Bakery and Café in Jackson is known as the last stop for vegetarians before Yellowstone.

Visitors discover this small, almost all-organic natural foods store amid the tourist traps and stock up on healthy groceries and café sandwiches for camping and hiking trips. After driving for days along interstates offering nothing but fast food, Harvest is a welcome sight.

"European travelers are tickled to see actual hearty bread in Wyoming," says Kathleen Osterman-Meissner, the store's manager. Harvest's in-store bakery offers 100 percent organic European artisan breads such as Vollkorn whole-grain dark bread, Allgäu rye, Swiss rye walnut, Italian pan puglia and French baguettes and croissants as well as 80 percent organic pastries, including German stolen, eclairs and cinnamon rolls. Co-owner and baker Glenjamin Wood, who trained with established European bakers, is currently trying to use less sugar and more stevia and rice syrup in the pastries.

Although Harvest's busy summer season increases business by 30 percent and the winter brings tourists to Jackson's ski resorts, "The store could not have become a success without support from the local community," says Sophia Wakefield, who co-owns the 8-year-old store with her husband Forest and friends Angèle Ferré and Wood. "We are here for the local people; the tourists are just extra for us."

Harvest's cook-to-order 98 percent organic café features "locals' appreciation" specials, such as two-for-one breakfast deals. Additionally, Wakefield has only raised café prices once in eight years because she wants locals to consider Harvest a reasonable place for a meal.

Through the years, locals have come to know Harvest as the community's information clearinghouse. In 1999, the owners organized town meetings at the store and gathered signatures to stop an incinerator from being built on a nearby nuclear-testing site. "Generally, there's a sign-up sheet posted that alerts the community to something that needs to be changed; sometimes it's local issues, other times it's the GMO foods issue," Wakefield says. "If someone in town needs to know the latest news about an issue, they call Harvest."

Harvest also helps locals by offering employees a sense of community in the workplace. "We truly respect our staff," Wakefield says. "We help them find housing or get visas or green cards. And we help them to learn to be healthy by finding them chiropractors or massage therapists." Wakefield also organizes employee meditation sessions and rewards staff with bonuses of massages or retreat trips. She believes that before her staff can selflessly serve customers, they need "to first experience what it feels like to be treated nicely."

Harvest is also supportive of other local businesses, remaining true to its motto posted throughout the store: "Supporting small business does big things."

"We don't consider anybody competition," Wakefield says. "There's a bagel shop down the street, so we never considered carrying bagels. If someone comes into our store looking for bagels, we send them to the bagel shop."

Another part of Harvest's dedication to the community is its commitment to organics. Since opening in 1994, Harvest has offered a 100 percent organic produce section. When Wakefield and her partners bought the store, it did not carry organic products because few organic suppliers would make the trek to the middle of Wyoming. But Wakefield was determined to bring organic food to Jackson, and soon a truck was delivering enough organic produce to fill the cases.

The café's salad bar also has been 100 percent organic since the beginning. "In other health food stores, you never know whether all the salad bar items are really organic because there isn't a sign," Wakefield says. "Customers assume that a store carrying organic produce will offer a 100 percent organic salad bar, but that isn't always the case."

In March, Wakefield and her partners re-evaluated their organic commitment. "To stay true to our commitment to the customer, we examined every section of the store and exchanged every natural product with an organic product," Wakefield says. If Harvest carries a product that isn't organic, it's because an organic version can't be delivered to Jackson.

Harvest's goal is to be Jackson's trusted source for organic food. "At supermarkets, they're mixing organic and conventional produce, so shoppers can't trust whether the organic apple they buy is truly organic," Wakefield says. The commingling is causing organic and conventional to be sold at the same price. "To stay in business, we need to take the lead in educating people about organics." Wakefield says she's looking into becoming a certified organic retail store.

At the same time Harvest converted to all organic, they remodeled the store, replacing all the shelves with NewLeaf Designs' red alder wood shelves that were sustainably harvested from renewable forest.

"The new shelving gives the store an overall cleaner look, freeing up aisle space for moms with carriages or folks with backpacks," says store manager Osterman-Meissner. "Since there's more space, the products are much more visible and the labels are more readable."

Wakefield only closed the store for a weekend and had a grand reopening, which featured 10 percent off all merchandise, free samples and the debut of its new organic inventory. Wakefield spoke with manufacturers about the grand reopening plans and asked for samples to give to customers.

Wakefield reflects on Harvest's renewal: "We felt it was important to renew our commitment to organics and sustainable sources and go the extra mile. We have to walk our talk."

Harvest Organic Foods, Bakery and Café
130 W. Broadway
Jackson, WY 83001
Retail space: 2,000 square feet
Owners: Sophia and Forest Wakefield, Glenjamin Wood, Angèle Ferré
Number of employees: 25 on-season, 13 off-season
Best-selling department: supplements
Annual sales: $1.3 million
Cost of recent remodel: $20,000, including labor

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 5/p. 50

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