Saturday, September 28, 2013

VeganMoFo Day #28: Good Food Conspiracy Is Love

I make lists to help me make decisions. Plain and simple I write "yes" and "no" on a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle and get to it. When I agreed to move here, one of the reasons in the "yes" column was this island had a health food store. Most places I've ever lived have had a health food store within reasonable driving distance. The exception was when I lived down the shore, one was sort of close, but it was really inconvenient to get to. Being that we had vacationed here so often, I was comfortable with the store on the island, and knew what to expect for the most part if I moved here. I knew that I needed a health food store not just for my personal reasons, but because I was going to be running a vegan bed and breakfast; I needed to establish a working relationship with a good natural food retailer in order for my own business to thrive.

Good Food Conspiracy is owned and operated by the Rev. Marney Brown. The store has been right where it is for just about 33 years. That is several lifetimes in Keys-speak. The Good Food Conspiracy isn't just a health food store; Marney is also a highly educated healer who has a holistic health center behind the store. For people like me, Good Food is the epicenter of social activity in the lower Keys.

Good Food is an "old style" health food store, meaning basically whatever "it" is that you need, they will have "it." It's not a very big store, but every nook and cranny is crammed with product. Half the store is groceries, about a quarter of the store is vitamins, supplements and herbs (the herbs available are VAST. There's shelves and shelves of them, and then a shelf that goes around near the ceiling almost the whole store with even MORE herbs), and the other quarter I'd say breaks down into odds and ends like bulk items, gift items that come and go mostly made by locals or artists passing through, and other miscellaneous items. Smack dab in the middle of the store is the juice bar. Every day there are between 2-4 scratch made soups available for sale (always offering vegan choices, some days everything is vegan!), toasted wraps with many vegan options, smoothies, juices, fruit freezes (oh heck yes!), salads, and more. There's a few bar stools on each side of the juice bar counters, one medium size table with a few chairs around it inside the store, and out back there is a garden with a few picnic and patio tables.

This is the view when you walk in, the path leads straight to the juice bar.
Organic fruits and veggies are available, as are local grown items.
The local stuff is really what I get jazzed about...
it's all seasonal locally, so that part is catch as catch can.
On high season I am in Good Food every day, 7 days a week (sometimes twice a day if my time management fails). This time of year typically I get in there about 3 times a week. In fact I have just now returned from a bit of shopping, and eating, at the store.

Bulk items ready and waiting.

If I get lazy and fail to make my own seitan, they've got me covered.
That chicken style seitan is really good for the "unchicken" and clouds
recipe I put up on my Facebook page a while ago.

Vegan sugar fix coconut style, soy style or rice style!
MMMMM, get some!
The girls at the store are my friends. They are a wealth of information, and always there with a smile for customers who are having a hard day. I have managed to maintain an excellent working relationship with Marney and everyone in that store, while being close friends. That is no small accomplishment based upon my prior experiences in other areas I used to live, but somehow in the Keys it's really not difficult at all. Maybe the people at Good Food just make it seem easy, not sure which. Regardless, Good Food Conspiracy is where I very often see friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Island living is small town living, and places like Good Food are the heart of the town.

It's a bit difficult for me to actually give an overview of everything this store offers, there's so much. There's the holistic health center, the juice bar and the grocery store. There's also weekly community health services available, other health providers who come in from time to time to do screenings and such, there's at least two Intuitive Arts Fairs offered annually, there's occasionally parties in the garden sometimes with live music, there's been memorials held there, and how can I forget to mention the "free box." On top of all this, Rev. Marney travels off site and performs weddings, commitment ceremonies, and pretty much any other ceremony you'd need an Officiant for. I will never forget the first time Marney came to my place for a wedding. She pulled up with a gong, blessing bells, singing bowls, crystals, sage and some other really cool stuff. She lead one of the best ceremonies I've ever attended. I absolutely adore Marney. She's been around the world, and seen a lot. Whenever I see her, I always think how beautiful she is inside and out. Marney has a heart of gold and would give anyone the clothes off her back if they needed them.

Meet the Rev. Marney Brown.
I took this picture at one of her garden parties. It was her birthday too.
She is wearing a tiara, I wish I didn't chop it off in this pic.
Marney is beautiful inside and out.
You will never meet a more generous person.
She's old school, which means she's there for us when needed.
Around here we lovingly refer to Good Food as "The Way Back" store. When I walk in, I feel like I've stepped into the natural food stores that I spent time in as a little girl. Tye dye clothing and Birkies are frequently sported by customers, and truly some of the most intelligent people I've ever met and had the privilege to chat with have been in that store. I always find something I've never noticed before, and I almost always pit stop across the front wall to stop and smell the incense (Prasad and Nag Champa, 2 of my favorites are sold there).
Personal care items, gift items, and of course incense!
I have not acquired a taste for Kombucha but lots of other people sure have.
Good Food has a pretty big selection of flavors, there's more in stock than shown here.
When I had to leave here to care for my dying father, it was some of the people at Good Food who really stepped in and helped the other happy vegan hold the fort down here while I was gone. It was at Good Food where I met Kevin, who in time became one of my most favorite people ever. And, it is the Good Food family who still grieve the loss of Kevin every day, and honors his memory with the love and respect we all deserve. It was Kevin who was the first person that made me finally realize the ordeal I had been through dealing with caring for, and eventually losing, my dad. The simple loving act of Kevin making my favorite soup became a turning point in so many ways for me. A turning point of whether I planned on staying, going, or deciding to be happy here. A turning point of realizing I had made some good friends here. I am someone who tends to take a solitary path in many aspects of my life. Good Food pushes back against that part of me; they nurture the possibilities within us, they make us remember that each of us needs to take care of ourselves, and then they provide the tools to care for, and heal us, be it with food, herbs, conversation or a quiet moment in the garden.

Parties spring up from time to time at Good Food.
The arts community down here is so incredibly talented.
So many really great musicians, we are so lucky!
Where there's great musicians, great dancers will follow!
This was, by the way, a Christmas party.
This is DEFINATELY my idea of a Christmas party!
(PS: that's Cindy on the left, Bonnie in center, and Marney on the right)

I could never imagine living on Big Pine without the Good Food Conspiracy, and I'm not just saying that. Not only does the store provide an essential service for this community, but the fact that they've been doing this for well over 30 years says a lot about their integrity, and speaks obvious volumes to their commitment to our Keys community.

Vegan spreads and such are nicely represented.
These cold cases have so much stuff lurking inside,
unless you've seen it with your own eyes, you're hard pressed to believe it!
This is was my view as I sat and ate my vegan vegetable soup over
organic brown rice. I added nooch to mine.... they have lots of
condiments available at the juice bar so you can fix your stuff to your liking
(hot sauce anyone?!!!)
This is Katy.
She is beautiful inside and out.
She makes a killer smoothie, trust me!
If you're feeling ick on any given day, let her make you a juice....
she knows how to fix whatever ails you, she's not just beautiful
she's SMART too!
We love you Katy!
In season this case is chock full of
artisan vegan baked goods, including soy free and gluten free.
Even off season there's a decent selection available on any given day.
Artisan and house made specialties like salsa, Asian noodles, kimchee,
hummus, papaya salad, and more. All vegan.
I would tend to agree.
Hello Kevin!
The garden can be quiet or it can be rocking.
Either way, it's a little oasis on the highway for sure. 
I've been shopping and eating at Good Food Conspiracy for too many years to count. I was a customer of theirs before I even lived here. I would stay at Deer Run as a guest for vacation several times a year, and always would stock up on my daily provisions to get me through my long beach days. Since moving here, it's become an integral part of my life, both professionally and personally. It's hard to believe that places like this still exist, but they do, and I'm fortunate to be less than 5 miles away from this little gem.

Marney, Bonnie, Katy, Cindy, Kathy, Beca are there to serve you (and me!) with a smile. Thank you so much for the good food, good vibes, and the rest of the good stuff. You're one in a million!

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