By Donna Christopher, DANBURY NEWS-TIMES CORRESPONDENT, February 9, 2007
Wheatgrass juice tastes expectedly like you'd imagine; it tastes like grass. However, a refreshing surprise comes with it, at least it did for me. After trying just a few sips, my breath felt sparkling clean, and the sensation remained even after several hours had passed.
My experience with wheatgrass was at the Organic Connection in Brewster, N.Y., where a juice bar features all kinds of interesting beverages to sample. A tastier concoction, "John's Jungle Juice," made from cucumber, apple, celery, lemon and kale, is among them, at this recently opened store.
There are also fresh foods prepared in a commercial kitchen on the premises, all made with organic ingredients, with the exception of wild salmon. Entrees include gluten-free noodles and salads, and are offered at a deli counter to eat in or take out. There's also a wide variety of fresh organic foods.
The pristine market has an open ceiling, painted black, and cinnamon-colored linoleum floors that appear as though they are wood. At 3,000 square feet it's a fairly large establishment. Meanwhile, the location, at 981 Route 22, means it's just minutes from the I-84 and I-684 interchange -- easily accessible from Fairfield, Putnam and Westchester counties.
Organic Connection, open since November, is owned by local residents Ian Diamond, of South Salem, N.Y., and David Richard, of Ridgefield. Its niche, said Diamond, is that 98 percent of the food sold there is organic. A market mainstay is its selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are visible in colorful abundance along a long wall just inside the entrance.
It's the store's "centerpiece," said Richard, pointing out some of the unusual choices among the apples, citrus fruits, broccoli, leafy vegetables, onions and potatoes. There are purple top beets and purple cauliflowers, and both contain "antioxidants" that are good for you, he said.
Groceries include artisan cheeses and various cuts of meat such as, beef, pork, lamb, bison and whole chickens and turkeys, as well as turkey breasts and chicken breasts. The poultry comes from an organic farm in Pennsylvania. It's organic because the farm uses organic feed, does not use growth hormones or antibiotics on its animals, and does not keep them caged.
The market also features different breads, such as one that's organic and gluten free.
The breads are multigrain, Richard explained, and are made from sprout grains, meaning the dough itself contains "the actual sprouts of the wheat plant," rather than flour. Other products include wheat past and "cultured" butter, which Richard calls "outstanding"
The market sells every bean and nut imaginable. There are green French lentils and raw and roasted nuts, plus combinations like garlic pine nuts and curry cashews. Items are stored in clear bulk bins for easy self-service.
"We've had a wonderful response from customers," said Diamond.
Both owners are genial, informative and eager to impart information on the benefits of eating "whole" foods that are produced without artificial pesticides or fertilizers.
Diamond, 47, comes from Melbourne, Australia. In his 20s he managed a health food store, then started his own. In the 1980s he opened an organic wholesale company that exported foods to Europe and the U.S. He moved here a decade later. Four years ago he began an organic food home delivery business based in South Salem, a precursor to the new market. Both businesses now run out of the Brewster location.
Richard, 51, grew up in Chicago, where his father started a health food store in 1963 and eventually expanded to a dozen stores in the Chicago suburbs. His father also started a national food and supplement company. In the early days, Richard remembers few people embraced "health food" as part of their diet. "It took a while to catch on. I started working at my dad's store when I was 9. Some days there was only one customer."
His father, he related, would tout the benefits of eating healthy to his customers and family. His mother, he remembered, switched to a healthy diet after going on a three-day fast. "She used to suffer from food allergies. My father was a biochemist and had some basis for making his statements. It's better for you," he said.
Still, as a kid, he "rebelled" a little and would use his allowance to buy candy. By high school, though, "I realized better eating made you feel better. I ate natural food. I was healthier. Then in my 30s I started eating organic food."
For many years Richard worked in health book publishing. His company is called Vital Health Publishing & Enhancement Books. Richard moved east from Chicago to be near New York, "the publishing capital of the world," and settled in Ridgefield four years ago.
"I always had this dream (of opening) a new generation of health food store, which sold mostly the food," said Richard. "Hippocrates said, 'Let food be your medicine.' We carry supplements and herbs, but a majority of our store is food and we believe it's the healthiest food around."
The store sells certified organic food, which Diamond explained is produced according to "legally regulated USDA standards." For crops this means they were grown without the use of conventional pesticides and artificial fertilizers "with no chemicals." For animals, it means they were raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormones.
The owners research their suppliers, he said. They attend about three trade shows a year, sampling various products around the country and inquiring about growing methods and farm sources. "We both worked in the health industry a long time and know the people with the highest quality of standards and integrity," said Diamond.
Suppliers are often small-scale farmers or farm co-ops in the regional area. Milk and yogurt at the market, for instance, comes from Evans Farmhouse Creamery, which is a family dairy farm in upstate Norwich, N.Y. Organic pork comes from a pig farm in Tillsdale, N.Y. The cheeses are handmade in "small batches" at a farm, that has its own herd of sheep and cows and are "high quality and delicious," Richard said.
Customers are often baby boomers, people who "try to stay healthy, young and fit and are concerned with the environment." They buy organic food to "avoid putting chemicals" into their body, he explained.
Such issues are important to Ken Weinstein, 43, a music publicist from North Salem, N.Y., who along with his wife, a homemaker, switched to organic eating when they started their family. Their children are 7 and 3.
"The place is great. We shop here all the time," he said, picking up a can of refried beans to place in a basket. The couple previously were clients of Diamond's home-delivery business. Weinstein was thrilled when the market opened near where he lives. "It's great. We're in here all the time. We are bombarded by chemicals every day and try to keep the amount we take in our bodies down."
The market's owners and their 15 employees eat organically and try to maintain healthy lifestyles, Richard said. "We all eat the food and live the philosophy and all that entails, from drinking clean water, to breathing fresh air and supplementing the diet with nutrients when appropriate, and moderate exercise." They care about the benefits organic agriculture has on "our earthly environment," he said.
"It's like nature's own recycling program. Waste products go back in the soil, whether it's turning under the silage from the crops or manure from the animals, or compost from food scraps that were eaten." The result he said is soil kept fertilized by "as natural means as possible" without synthetic pesticides or harmful herbicides.
Joy Perlow, 46, is a manager at Organic Connection. Initially she changed her diet ten years ago, when she was trying to figure out which food, if any, was causing her to have migraines. "I was trying to find a trigger but changed my diet, in general. I started eliminating food and that led to switching entirely to organic foods," she said, adding she no longer has headaches.
Market employee Tara Schapers, 36, eats healthy, too. She's the one who offered the wheatgrass, which is sold in trays at the store. It's actually the "blades of grass" of the plant before it sprouts into wheat, and very nutritious.
Organic Connection is open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Home delivery service is available. For more details, call (845) 279-2290 or visit www.organicconnection.net.
The store is on Route 22 (also Route 6 & 202) in Brewster, just off the interchange for I-84 & I-684. The address is 981 Route 22, Brewster, N.Y.