by Caroline Radice
Whether you’re a devoted member- owner or just shop there occasionally, having Ukiah Natural Foods as a grocery store option means that we are able to purchase high quality, fresh, organic foods consistently and conveniently. One of the many wonderful people behind the store is Lori Rosenberg, General Manager and Ukiah Natural Foods employee of thirty years. Lori is passionate about quality food and a driving force behind the co-op’s enduring commitment to bring organic food to our community.
Lori moved to Ukiah from New York in the ‘70s during the famous back- to-the-land movement, which found many people moving to Northern California for its natural beauty and community of like-minded people. Some community members had the idea of starting a buying club to bring goods and products in that the group really needed for that lifestyle: fruit trees, canning equipment, bulk bags of organic rice and beans. When asked if there were any interesting purchases in the early days of the cooperative Lori said, “Yes, absolutely, customers were buying 55 gallon drums of nutritional yeast and 5 gallon tubs of tahini!” The buying club received great reception and was incorporated as the Home- stead Exchange in 1976. Lori worked as a small farmer during these years, harvesting fresh greens, herbs, and flowers before dawn to take to Ukiah Farmers’ Market.
As the store grew, Ukiah Natural Foods moved from a funky little garage on Gobbi Street to a larger space on Perkins St., and realized they could source a whole lot more than just rice and beans. They enlarged the selection of food items to include fresh produce, dairy, and more dry goods. The organic food movement was only just beginning then, and the purchasing options were limited. As so many farmers often do, Lori took a job working as a cashier at the store for some extra income. She didn’t really intend to turn her cashier job into a thirty year career, but these values and ideals resonated with her and her love of good organic food made her a perfect fit for the store. Ukiah Natural Foods was one of many cooperatives across the country formed in these years, which found the organic food movement really growing into a powerful force for change in the way we eat. “The staff and customers were filled with enthusiasm, and being part of the natural food movement was like being part of
a joyful avalanche,” according to Lori. The movement blossomed and more and more farms and producers began adopting organic practices.
In 1997, Ukiah Natural Foods moved to their current Gobbi Street location, and saw business continue to grow. These days, organic has become mainstream and they’re not the only store in town selling organic food. Ukiah Natural Foods, though, goes above and beyond in their sourcing, taking the most care to make sure that their values and ideals are reflected in their purchasing. They have been supportive of local farmers for years, and have been happy to use the MendoLake FoodHub, a new local delivery system started by North Coast Opportunities to make it easy for wholesale purchasers to buy directly from local farmers. Customers can find an array of locally grown produce from farms such as Irene’s Garden, Seely Farm, Bob Gates Organics, and Love Farms. Local meats and cheeses are available for sale from Shamrock Artisan Chevre, Mendocino Meats, Inland Ranch Organics, John Ford Ranch, Magruder Ranch and more. Local meats are so popular that it’s hard to keep them in stock, some- thing Lori attributes to customers’ increased desire to purchase sustainable, humanely raised meats that are healthy, safe and nutritious.
Ukiah Natural Foods turns 40 this year, with a birthday bash scheduled for October 9th, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. The free event will be fun for the whole family, with local vendors, farmers, and live music. Customers can also look forward to their 40 days of give- aways, starting on September 15th, when they’ll be raffling off a free item every day. Lori is incredibly proud to celebrate what the store has accomplished this far and what they are able to do for the community, and is looking forward to continuing their mission of bringing good organic food to our community for many years to come.