Patrons and vendors who visit Green Earth natural food store in Oneonta are often invited to linger over a new culinary treat or a conversation about the politics of food.
The store is considered a community center, where those interested in eating naturally grown food, have dietary restrictions or are interested in yoga or meditation spend time with other like-minded people. Green Earth offers organic produce and meat as well as gluten-free meals and natural milk products. There is a community room in the back of the store that features classes on meditation and yoga.
For owners Dean and Emily Roberts, it is a way of life.
“Every day there is something going on,” said Dean Roberts.
A man of intense curiosity, Dean Roberts takes an interest in every customer and vendor who walks through the door of Green Earth. He and his wife, Emily, are always looking for new, local vendors and modern ways of distributing healthy, natural food to their customers.
“It is such an industry now,” said Emily Roberts. “About 70 percent of everything we order comes from UNFI.”
United Natural Foods Inc. is a national distributor that sells natural, organic and specialty foods, as well as products such as nutritional supplements, personal care items and organic produce.
Much of the other 30 percent of their inventory comes from local and regional suppliers who have small farms on which they raise and produce organic foods.
Illyssa Berg of Garrettsville owns Painted Goat Farm. She is a suppliers of organic goat cheese.
“I have about 75 goats,” Berg said. “I milk them in the morning and make cheese. It takes about three days to make a fresh cheese – from milking to packaging.”
In addition to Painted Goat Farm, some of the other local suppliers include Middlefield Farm, which makes organic jams; Toonie Moonie Organics in Stamford, makers of organic marshmallow cream; Applegarth Farm and Pottery in Maryland, a supplier of organic chickens; and Flying Rabbit Farms, from which organic, seasonal produce is supplied.
“We have been very fortunate to have so many people, both suppliers and customers who are committed to eating well,” Dean Roberts said.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, a woman walked through the door carrying a flat tray of organically grown spouts. Rebekka Schecter of Sharon Springs explained to the Roberts her method of growing the spouts. Dean Roberts talked about the possibilities of carrying her produce with one of his employees, Bob Berglewicz. They decided to try the spouts and began talking about obtaining locally grown wheat grass.
“These are amazing people,” Berglewicz said. “It is nice to be a part of something that I believe in. I have worked in jobs that I felt compromised my integrity, and I decided I would not do that anymore.
“A lot of people who come in here are looking for an alternative — healthy eating or supplements — I believe the food industry is controlled by big business. It is nice to have an alternative, to know where your food comes from.”
The Robertses bought Green Earth from Gary Schroeder in 2008. Dean Roberts had been retired from a successful business for about 10 years when the opportunity became available.
“We were interested in eating well and we had farmsteaded for about 10 years when he decided to close it,” Dean Roberts said. “We were friends and we talked about buying it.”
The business was not very robust when the Roberts purchased Green Earth, but there was a loyal following. Over the past five years the husband-and-wife team began to build the business with an eye to service. They now employ 10 people.
Green Earth has expanded and added several new walk-in refrigeration units and new freezers. The café offers soups, sandwiches and beans and rice as well as coffee and tea. Patrons are often found lingering over lunch at one of the several tables set up in front of the big picture windows.
Their new endeavor is a partnership with Johanna’s Raw Foods, a line of organic, gluten-free snacks that are heated to no more than 115 degrees to preserve the raw nutrients. Green Earth employees manufacture the snacks after closing the store to the public.