GMO-free goods priority at Moreland Farmers Pantry

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Elise Burke, of Moreland Farmers Pantry, stocks the shelves of Oregons first non-GMO grocery store.Whether the campaign to require labeling of non-GMO food products in Oregon takes flight, you’ll never have to read the labels at a new Sellwood grocery store. Every item at the sparkling new 5,000-square-foot Moreland Farmers Pantry — from the milk and eggs to meat, popcorn, candy and dog treats — has been vetted by the shopkeepers to be free of genetically modified organisms.

The Pantry’s thousands of meticulously stocked items are not just GMO-free, hormone-free and pesticide-free, they’re all sourced locally — from Oregon first and then the rest of the West Coast — and only carried during the season to ensure the smallest carbon footprint.

That means no mangos, bananas or papayas, because none are grown on the West Coast.

There are no cans in the store; tomatoes, applesauce and pie fillings are jarred and the milk is in glass bottles, like it was done in the pre-industrial days.

“We do the homework for the customers, so they can be sure when they come into the store that foods are healthy and safe,” especially for people with allergies, says Elise Burke, the Pantry’s director of operations and marketing.

Many other local stores offer a variety of non-GMO products, but Burke says she’s not aware of any other everyday retailer that carries solely non-GMO products. The Pantry just gave $200 to support the GMO-labeling campaign underway, and is encouraging the public to support it as well.

The Pantry is one of a few local “supporting retailers” of the Bellingham, Wash., Non-GMO Verification Project, the only lab that tests products to ensure non-GMO status.

With so much interest in the non-GMO issue lately, you’d think the Pantry would be flooded with curious customers.

In fact, on a recent morning, just a handful of customers browsed. Staff say word of their opening hasn’t yet gotten out; customers tend to stumble onto the place by walking by.

Or, business could be suffering from the scandal that erupted in April, a month before the store opened. A local newspaper published a story about a community member who was offended by Facebook comments made by Chauncy Childs, owner of the Pantry with her husband, John Childs. Under a pseudonym, Childs cited her religious beliefs against same-sex marriage, which led gay activists and neigbors to call for a boycott of the store and any vendors who didn’t pull out of the not-yet-open market. Some vendors caved under the pressure, but some of those have since returned.

Other vendors and neighbors stood by the couple, arguing that their personal religious viewpoints and free speech rights shouldn’t destroy an upstart business that aims to bring value to the community.

Chauncy and John Childs have since told media and their customers — via a letter they hand to anyone who comes in the store and asks — that their personal religious beliefs as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are their own, but “we will not discriminate against anyone in any form.”

According to the letter: “We support diversity and anti-discrimination in all business practices.”

To underscore the point, a handwritten sign on the chalkboard at the front of the store says: “Welcome everyone. We are happy to serve you.”

The Childses, who have six children and live on a farm south of Portland, also had donated $5,000 to the nonprofit Equity Foundation in Portland. The foundation leverages social, economic and political equity for the LGBTQ community. Execu tive Director Karol Collymore says their generosity is appreciated, and the funds will be spent in the next grant cycle toward services approved by both the Childses and the foundation board.

Food entrepreneurs

As farmers, the Childs raise Grade A, grass-fed “beyond organic” dairy and tend several acres of vegetables and herbs.

The couple explains on their website their “vision of pre-industrial food that is reasonably priced so that more of the public might enjoy the benefits of great meats, dairy, and vegetables.”

While the Childses aren’t on site at the store every day, they have a staff of 10, who wear cheery red aprons and offer a free personal shopping service, with a $50 minimum purchase.

The store goes above and beyond to create the look and feel of a 1920s mercantile, having gutted and redesigned the space with help from a local architect and interior designer.

There’s an old model Ford in the middle of the shop that serves as a fancy display case, breezy ceiling fans, ornate ceiling tiles, walls and mirrors painted to look old, vintage advertisement posters, jazz playing overhead, and flat produce displays in place of aisles.

Just two kinds of milk are sold: Flying Cow Dairy glass bottles of whole white milk or chocolate milk.

A mini bar in the back carries Hopworks and Cascadia Cider on tap, as well as two kinds of kombucha and two white wines and two red wines which — along with the bottles for sale, meet the standards for sustainable and biodynamic growing practices.

The Pantry fills growlers to go, offers buck-a-cup coffee, and a soon-to-come discount bulk ordering service that will serve residents beyond the neighborhood. A deli counter is set to open at the back of the store by late summer.

There’s free non-GMO popcorn for the kids (with GMO-free kernels from Eugene and canola oil from Echo, Oregon and Napa Valley), and a large section of tables and chairs arranged for leisurely checkers games.

Handmade bath soaps, powder toothpaste, cribbage boards, aprons and tea towels by local craftspeople are displayed in the sundry section.

Even the gumball machine is stocked with non-GMO gumballs.

In all, about 50 vendors are represented, just one from beyond the West Coast. By request from customers, jarred (not canned) tomatoes come from Connecticut, since none were found on the West Coast that were in a jar, certified organic and non-GMO.

Pantry staff are looking to do their own tomatoes in jars.

Many of the vendors are farmers or new food entrepreneurs, this being their first time selling in a retail space. Pantry staff personally visit the farms to check out how the animals are raised. Flying Cow Farm in Oregon City pasture-feeds their cows and uses their own fodder (feed) system, growing their own grass from GMO-free grains. Pleasant Valley Farms in Eugene sells their pork and eggs in the store, the eggs multicolored from 25 different hens. Pantry Barn, a family farm in Lebanon, sells their GMO-free raw grains and nuts, freshly milled flour, whole-wheat muffin and brownie mixes, and granola.

Beaverton entrepreneur Scott Carroll sells his one-and-only product, a healthy hot sauce called Shauce. He recalls vetting the product with Burke after meeting her at a tasting event. “She definitely asked a lot of questions; she wanted to know everything about the product,” he says.

Carroll happily explained that he uses no preservatives, instead using vinegar and a process called aseptic bottling to keep the pH at optimal levels and make it shelf-stable.

From research he’s done on healthy ingredients, he uses sunflower lecithin in place of soy lecithin, and molasses and coconut palm sugar in place of white refined sugar. The Shauce is gluten-free, certified vegan and in the process of being certified organic (which includes being GMO-free).

“All food should be this way,” Carroll says. “There’s a lot of trickery that goes into these foods (on traditional supermarket shelves), and it’s totally unnecessary.”

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