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Eat Me

The Green Aisle

Regional Grocer Enables You To Think Globally, Eat Locally

Christopher Myers

Posted 9/5/2007

Ask most folks in Baltimore the first thing that comes to mind at mention of Jessup and they'll answer, "That's where the prison is." Of course, they wouldn't be wrong. Up until March, Jessup was home to the Maryland House of Correction, the state's most notoriously violent and mismanaged prison. Jessup isn't all about incarceration, though.

It's also about organic food--and green building. Just across the street from one of the prison complex buildings in a secluded strip of stores off the intersection of routes 1 and 175 sits MOM's, aka My Organic Market.

The MOM's story starts in a warehouse in Beltsville, where in 1987 then 22-year-old Scott Nash moved his fledgling company, Organic Foods Express, from out of his mom's garage and into the world of Big Organic. In 1996, after a decade of successful expansion, the venture opened its first store in Rockville and was renamed MOM's. Since then, MOM's markets have opened in College Park, Alexandria, Va., Frederick, and recently in Jessup--called, in realtor-talk, "Columbia East."

MOM's (7351 Assateague Drive, No. 190, Jessup, [410] 799-2175) prides itself on its daily fresh stock of organic fruits and vegetables. Despite the common perception of organic grocery store prices, MOM's is relatively easy on the wallet. An eight-ounce carton of whole white mushrooms runs about $2, and green peppers run about $1.70 a pound. That's not much more than what you could expect to pay at Super Fresh for a decent pepper, if such a thing exists at Super Fresh. The greens in general--mustards, collards, green onions--are a bit steep compared to what you can get at local farmers' markets. However, the fruits--dark and juicy plums, firm bananas, and rich apples--are only slightly more expensive than the local organic competition, and much tastier. MOM's acknowledges that its produce can be a bit pricier than the competition's, but this reflects the fact that the store gets its fruit and veggies--mostly from local farms--delivered daily and does not stockpile produce. So more often than not, you are literally getting what came in off the truck fresh that morning.

Vegetarian protein stand-bys such as seitan and tofu are represented here in many varieties--from a soy sauce-enhanced wheat gluten to preseasoned BBQ tofu. Though, to tell the truth, no creative cook really needs anything more than the basics, and here they're sold at supermarket prices. Much more useful is MOM's unique selection of bulk organic nuts, beans, and seeds.

The juice aisle is where it's at: peach, apple, pear, white grape, mango, and any and all mixes and blends. It's pricey but hearty stuff; splitting it with water brings it down to supermarket prices without destroying the flavor. And all-natural Santa Cruz organic lemonade running at 99 cents a quart just can't be beat.

And as any health-food guru knows, there is nothing more important than the quality of snacks. And MOM's serves up some real killers. Stonewall's Jerquee--yes, because every vegetarian needs an all-natural beef jerky substitute--takes the cake; and in four varieties, it only runs about $1.30 a bag. Other favorites include the Seapoint Farms wasabi-powdered dry-roasted edamame and Kettle's awe-inspiring cheddar beer potato chips. These are potato chips that give meaning to life. And given that MOM's guarantees the lowest price on all dry and frozen groceries, you can snack easy without fearing you've just broke the bank.

Next up are the teas. While MOM's continues to sell the Starbuck's-owned Tazo brand (cringe), its ample selection is filled out by a peppery GoodEarth organic seven-spice chai and several styles of Numi black teas and Yogi Tea herbals. And MOM's doesn't skimp on its selection of maté at fair prices. While not as strong as a traditional loose-leaf Rosamonte maté, certainly $3.89 for 24 bags of good-quality Eco Teas organic yerba maté is nothing to sneeze at.

MOM's gives a nod to world cuisine: Japanese food is represented by organic nori and all the fixins to roll up your own sushi, and Thai food is covered by a few DIY dishes and spicy sauces. But the Indian food section is somewhat lacking, with only a handful of mediocre boxed and frozen goods. Though the heat-and-serve Tasty Bite Kashmir spinach can make you look like a gourmet in no time, if it's Indian spices and sauces you're looking for, then you are better off in the Arbutus Mars store.

Where MOM's suffers in comparison to a competitor like Trader Joe's is in the lack of having its own store brand--and store-brand prices. It's worth remembering, however, that Trader Joe's is a national chain, whereas shopping at MOM's supports local business. It's especially important to consider this difference as Trader Joe's plans to open a new location not a stone's throw from MOM's, just up Route 175 in Columbia.

Something you do notice at MOM's is the sincere friendliness and courtesy of the staff. In these days of self-checkouts and underpaid grocery part-timers, it's nice to shop somewhere where you can chat with folks about food. And if that wasn't enough, MOM's puts its position as a growing organic market to good use as a founding member of the Clean Energy Partnership, a group organizing businesses around the Chesapeake to find clean-energy alternatives.

The company doesn't skimp when it comes to its own green planning, either. MOM's in Jessup has installed 40 Solatube skylights, which cut energy consumption; you wouldn't know it, though. On any ordinary day, the store is as bright as any other. Since 2005, the company has been purchasing wind power and boasts that all of its stores are driven by 100 percent wind.

All in all, MOM's is a bright spot in a part of Howard County with a notorious history. And while city dwellers may fight for parking in that hinterland currently known as Inner Harbor East, a quick drive out Washington Boulevard could prove a worthy diversion; for though the selection and quantity of stock at MOM's can't match Whole Foods, the quality and value of what is on hand more than makes up for it. MOM's proves that quality organic food can be sold in a green building at supermarket prices by a locally owned company.

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