Since Chris Schneider first opened the flagship location of Mother Earth’s Storehouse in Kingston 38 years ago, the local health food store chain has become a Hudson Valley institution.
The first store opened in the King’s Mall shopping center in 1978, long before the local and organic food trend began to garner mainstream attention.
“This is our fourth spot in the mall itself,” Schneider says. “We’ve been here the whole time, but we’ve moved around a lot as we’ve grown.”
Schneider’s decision to open his first health food store began with an interest in healthy eating.
“I got into reading books on nutrition,” he explains. “I always wanted to go into business for myself, and it looked like a good opportunity to.”
Just a few years after opening the Kingston location, Schneider’s brother, Kevin, also become involved.
“We’re brothers and partners,” Schneider says. “He was still in college when the first store opened.”
In addition to the Kingston shop, two more stores have sprouted up in Saugerties and Poughkeepsie, and the variety of products offered at all three locations has expanded as well. The from-scratch bakeries in Kingston and Poughkeepsie produce both gluten-free and traditionally-baked goods, while the delis (also in the Kingston and Poughkeepsie locations) prepare dishes for meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike.
“We’re big into grab-to-go, so people can assemble things to make meals at home,” Schneider says.
Soups, salads, and side dishes give customers healthy options even when they don’t have time to prepare a home-cooked meal themselves. It also gives folks a chance to see what healthy food done right tastes like.
Mother Earth’s emphasis on fresh food means benefits for both health-conscious customers and local farms.
“Most of them are low-key farms,” Schneider says. “Hawthorne Valley Farm is one we do a lot with, [as well as] Northwind Farms and Feather Ridge Farm. We try to support as may local farms and products as we can, and in turn, we like to offer the product to the customers, so they really get true, local product. We watch for the quality. Preferably organic, definitely non-GMO.”
Mother Earth’s goes beyond simply selling healthy food; it also hosts cooking demos and educational programs. Classes on how to use grains like oats or millet give customers a chance to try before they buy, and the opportunity to learn about new foods.
“Customers can learn about all of the different grains and how to prepare them,”Schneider says.
Healthy eating educators Jahnavi Foster and Jennifer Brizzi run classes and tours within the store. Jahnavi, who is currently working on a cookbook, says that the program grew out of a desire to provide better customer service.
“I try to focus on the needs of the customers, and after four years, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback,” she explains.
People with dietary restrictions—most commonly, customers trying to go vegan or gluten-free—can watch a cooking demonstration and go home with a recipe for a meal that is nutritious, affordable, tasty, and easy to prepare.
“Vegan and gluten-free people are our strong customer base,” Jahnavi says. “People see how much variety there is, and all the things you still can eat, and all of the products that are available that are naturally vegan and gluten-free.”
She also looks for opportunities to expose customers to foods they may not have tried before, especially those that come with a lower price tag.
“When I see something going on sale in the store, I use it in my recipes,” she says. “I focus on healthy, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. When you eat healthy, you just feel better.”
The Kingston store will soon be home to a new café and kitchen area, which will include salad bars, hot bars, a coffee bar, and a seating area. Cooking demos at the store have been so well-received that customers sometimes want to skip making the food themselves and take home a prepared dish.
“People want to buy what I make in the demos,” Jahnavi says. “Now that I’m part of the new kitchen team, we want to marry the two programs so you can take home the recipe or buy what I make in-store.”
Customers can also access a huge amount of information through the stores’ website, motherearthstorehouse.com. The site is a portal to all sorts of interesting and useful articles on natural living, and of course, plenty of recipes.
Pages listing the health benefits of common foods, entries on natural cold treatments and ways to boost the immune system, and fun tidbits on topics such as how to make your own elderberry syrup can also be found on the site.
The community-minded enterprise also donates to a number of local organizations.
“We get an unbelievable amount of requests for donations,” Schneider says. “Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Woodstock animal sanctuary, schools, local fire departments, charities. We do quite a bit—I have a pile on my desk right now. We donate to Family of Woodstock and the monastery up at Woodstock, we donate food for their dinner. We give gift cards, baskets, or any other support we can.”
This feature is part of the Hudson Valley Pollinator Series, a tribute to the individuals and businesses that are forging the way to a more resilient and self-reliant economy through their boldness, innovation, and continued care for the people and environment around them.