A new organic outlet in Richland

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 9, 2012 

RICHLAND — Parkway Partners may be one of the best kept secrets among those with a passion for organic, natural and handcrafted foods.

But word is spreading that partners Dani Smart and Joanne Massingale's two businesses -- ShopTheNorthwest.com and the Northwest Regional Food Hub -- are the best places to shop in the Mid-Columbia.

"The e-commerce site has been open since 2009, our brick and mortar store only a few months," Massingale said.

Discerning shoppers are tracking down the small grocery store where it is tucked away at 603 Goethals Drive in Richland.

Kyla Merrifield of Richland was clued into the Food Hub by a friend.

"I come in once a week for milk, cheese and sometimes meat. I don't buy anything from a factory farm because the quality is awful," she said. "It's amazing to find a store like this in the Tri-Cities. I used to milk my own goat just to get good milk."

Merrifield said her home is nearly to West Richland but doesn't mind the drive.

"I'd go twice as far for food this good, for this quality," she said.

It is what is on the shelves, in the fridge and freezer that is bringing shoppers to the store. Almost everything in the store comes from a farm, dairy or specialty food producer either in the Mid-Columbia or the Northwest.

You can buy raw honey packed by Annette Wells, who keeps hives in Richland and West Richland. Choose a sack of fresh apples grown by Sylvia Albertin of Kennewick. Top your cereal with raw milk from cows living at Pure Eire Dairy in Othello. Or make your signature stew with organic meats from Pat 'n Tams in Hermiston.

There is even a line of body care products -- Moxie Organic -- made by Amber Bates of Walla Walla.

"She's taught us that what you put on your body is as important as what you put in it," Smart said.

More than 30 local farmers, small food producers, bakers and a chef are selling through the website and the Northwest Regional Food Hub store.

"And more are joining every month," Smart said.

She and her partner have applied for a liquor license so they can carry vintages made by small, boutique wineries.

"They're too small to have a distributor, so the only way to buy their wine is to go to the individual winery. We could have wines from several of them right here," Smart said.

There is no membership fee to shop on the website or at the store. But there is an advantage to preordering through the website: You will get exactly what you want.

"If you don't, when you shop the store, you'll have to rely on what we happen to have on hand," she said.

If you're looking for spices and mustards, you likely will find exactly what you want. If it's fresh raw milk or organic eggs, they may have them on hand.

The store is stocked and staffed by volunteers. Each farmer or vendor pays for a space, just as they would at a farmers market. Many of the same foods and products in the store can be found at the markets when they're open.

Massingale and Smart wince when someone refers to the Food Hub as a specialty food store.

"That's something you only visit for a special occasion or for a gift. Rather, we want to be known as a grocery store. One that integrates local foods into customers' daily lives," Smart said.

The Food Hub also is a source for foods and products from Azure Standard in Dufur, Ore. The company specializes in natural, organic, earth-friendly foods and products.

"There are a lot of food clubs in the Mid-Columbia who order from Azure because of their wide variety; they have thousands. And it's hard to buy organic flour, for example, in large quantities. You can find small bags at health food stores and some grocery stores but not 25-pound sacks like Azure offers," Smart said.

The Food Hub gathers orders for Azure products, consolidates them and places the order.

"This helps our customers get the best prices. They may not want six of one thing but if five others do, they get a break on the pricing. We don't mark these up. We sell them for exactly what Azure charges," Massingale said.

Any extra they order is sold at the Food Hub.

"We're not trying to compete with our local producers. Rather, the Azure products help fill in the holes. They complement our local foods," Smart said.

There is also a commercial kitchen at the Food Hub. It's available for specialty food producers to rent. But they also use it for food and cooking demonstrations.

"There's nothing better than learning about a product directly from the person who made it, who has a passion for it," Smart said.

The class schedule is posted on the website, www.ShopTheNorthwest.com. Two upcoming cooking classes are:

-- Sauces 201, an intermediate class, is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1. Cost is $25.

-- Smoking and Barbecuing will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29. Cost is $30.

On Wednesdays, drop by the Food Hub for lunch. Annette Wells comes in early to bake up her tasty ciabatta rolls and bread. Later, chef Jason LaBarge is in whipping up a big pot of soup.

"We'd like to expand this part of the business and offer more foods, more often," Massingale said.

More information

-- Where: 603 Goethals Drive

-- When: The Food Hub is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

-- Information: Send an email to contact ShopTheNorthwest.com or look for them on Facebook.

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