This story starts with a car wreck. A few weeks ago–the week before the U.S. election, to be exact–I was in Maryland visiting my dad. Riding shotgun on the way home from my brother’s birthday dinner, I caught a glimpse of the sign for MOM’s Organic Market and shrieked, “HEY, THERE IT IS!”
Unfortunately, my scream startled dad enough for him to swerve into a curb that had suddenly jutted out into the middle of the road. (Who put that there?) We ended up with a flat tire and had to wait in the MOM’s parking lot for my brother in law to come help us change the tire.
You’re probably wondering why I screamed when we passed MOM’s Organic Market. Well, growing up in Beltsville, MD in the 80’s, we shopped at conventional grocery stores like Giant and Safeway and A&P. We didn’t have markets like Whole Foods, and we certainly didn’t have our own local organic grocery stores. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989. The few times a year I came home to visit, I continued to patronize those same conventional grocery stores, assuming (wrongly) that there were no other options. It wasn’t until this past year, working for an organic meat company in San Francisco, that I learned about MOM’s Organic Market, just a couple of miles from my dad’s house. MOM’s was, coincidentally, one of the meat company’s wholesale customers. So that’s why I was excited enough to scream out when we passed MOM’s market in College Park that fateful night.
Sitting in the parking lot, waiting for the tire to be changed, I started Googling MOM’s Organic Market and read an interview with the founder, Scott Nash. It said he was 51 years old. Wait, I thought, I’m 51. It said he had dropped out of University of Maryland in 1987 (I was at UMD in 1987) and started selling organic foods out of his mother’s garage in Beltsville. Beltsville? That’s where I grew up! It turns out, though I didn’t really know him, Scott Nash went to my high school. Now he owns a local chain of organic markets throughout the Mid-Atlantic United States . And according to MOM’s website, one of the company’s missions is to eliminate unnecessary plastic. I had to meet this guy!
A few days later, after we replaced the tire, I borrowed my Dad’s car to visit Scott at his office in the Rockville MOM’s location.
The first thing I noticed after pulling into the parking lot were designated charging stations for electric cars near the front of the store.
And the second thing I noticed was a big sign reminding customers to bring their reusable bags. According to Scott, MOM’s was the first grocery store to eliminate plastic bags back in 2004. (Whole Foods waited until 2008.)
Not only did MOM’s eliminate plastic bags, but in 2010, they also banned sales of non-carbonated bottled water. Now, in the place where those water bottles would have been, is a sign explaining their absence.
I was quite impressed by all of the educational signage at MOM’s. Not only do they offer many products in bulk, but a giant sign explicitly encourages customers to use their own containers. And Scott says that products are priced to encourage customers to buy bulk vs. packaged.
A MOM’s sign in the produce department explains that the store doesn’t carry produce in plastic if it’s available without plastic.
Here are a few more things you can buy packaging-free:
Bath salts and body scrubs…
And of course, you can buy milk in a returnable glass bottle:
Keeping it real, I have to mention that there were a few things sold packaged that I personally would have liked to see in the bulk bins. Dried fruit, for example, and snack foods. Scott said he worries that those things can be contaminated by little hands. I understand his point, but I pointed out that in the Bay Area, we buy all of our dried fruit from bulk bins and don’t have a problem with it. I’m hoping MOM’s will continue to expand its packaging-free offerings.
There’s one more question I forgot to ask Scott: Is MOM’s a recursive acronym? (I like to think that it is.)
I know where I’ll be shopping from now on when I visit my dad!