Going organic: Mid-County businesses band together, encourage community

Going organic: Mid-County businesses band together, encourage community

Selling and consuming organic products and food has been a growing trend nationally since the early days of the new millennium, and Texas tendrils of that same movement have burst through not only in likely hot spots like Austin but also in the Mid-County area.

After the USDA started releasing national standards for organic products in 2002, organic food sales grew by 17 to 20 percent each year in the early 2000s, while conventional food sales grew by 2 to 3 percent per year, the Smithsonian reported in 2009.

More recently, Austin ranked eighth on the list of the 10 most organic cities in America, according to a study by the Campbell Soup Company and Sperling’s Best Places, the Huffington Post reported in 2015. Portland, Oregon ranked No. 1 in the same study.

And just within the last few years, area businesses have opened their doors or started incorporating green practices here in Southeast Texas, and some banded together to start the Mid County Victory Garden in 2016.

Today, “organic” has literally grown to include not only what you put in your body, but also what you put on it.

Gather Café, Port Neches

Gather Cafe’s menu is free of gluten, grains and soy.

The staff serves lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., with brunch on Saturday mornings. Three to five items are usually on the menu chalkboard, which change each week. Saturday brunch is typically pancakes, bacon and sausage.

“Everything that we serve here is as close to organic as we possibly can,” explained manager Jessi Hebert. “We use local farms, and not all of them are certified organic necessarily.”

Hebert said all of the local farms use clean practices, meaning that they don’t spray herbicides and pesticides and don’t plant GMO seeds. All of their dishes are served fresh.

Her sisters Chrystal Lundy and Jodi Hebert co-own the cafe, which opened in January 2016.

Their salmon croquettes are made from Alaskan salmon mixed with sweet potatoes and egg, molded into patties and served with homemade coleslaw and their house Cajun seasoning and remoulade sauce, which Hebert described as being “like a spicy mayo dip.”

They experiment with customer’s recommendations and popular items to concoct new dishes. Past ventures include gumbo, Thai ginger soup, lemon caper chicken, and bacon turkey burgers served with fried, mashed baby potatoes topped with house seasoning.

“We talk about what all we’re craving and we’re in the mood for,” Hebert said.

All three sisters are from Port Neches originally and wanted to bring more culinary options back to their hometown for people that couldn’t go out to eat anywhere because of dietary restrictions like being gluten or MSG intolerant.

“We’re one of the very few places that they can eat without having to ask, ‘Is this gluten free?’ — it’s always gluten free,” Hebert said.

Down to Earth, Nederland

Down to Earth opened in Nederland in 2011, but their Beaumont location launched in July 2015.

The shops sell organic lotions, shower gels and body sprays that include essential oils.

“So you’re not just buying lotion, you’re buying lotion that has lemongrass in it, [which] can help with fibromyalgia or repel mosquitoes and bugs,” store owner Alisha Dungan said. “That’s one of the benefits and what makes us different from everyone else.”

She co-owns the store with Van Lam Nguyen.

“[This] was something that I always had done at home for my house,” Dungan said. “It was a hobby of mine. Van had a little extra money and she said, ‘If I pay for rent, would you open this place?”

“Now five and a half years later, it’s still getting bigger and growing.”

They also sell sunscreen, mineral makeup, deodorant and about 200 herbs, many of which are organically grown. Their shelves are stocked with local honey from Muldrow’s and Dietz’s.

“Anything customers request, it ends up on our shelves,” she said.

Sheer Madness, Nederland

Sheer Madness, Desiree McPhillips’s hair salon, is the only salon in Southeast Texas currently offering organic hair dye, she said.

The brand she uses is called Oway.

“It’s an ammonia-free line manufactured in Italy ... considered an organic line,” McPhillips said. “It’s 98 percent derived naturally, and 70 percent of the ingredients are organic.”

Oway has only been sold in America for the last year and a half, she explained.

McPhillips contacted the distributor to test out the dye before offering it to her customers.

“There were only two listings for people in Houston using it as of February last year,” she said. “There’s a few more people using it now.”

It’s now the only hair dye that she uses.

She purchased Sheer Madness two years ago, but last year she said that she decided to “switch over and start using the green salon idea.”

McPhillips is also the founder of the Mid County Victory Garden.

“I just felt like if I was going to be showing people how to use organics in their gardening life, I [needed] to apply organics in other forms of my life as well,” McPhillips said.

“I started learning about green salons and organic salons and how they were popular in bigger cities and we started trying to follow some of their practices.”

The salon also recycles and uses handmade hand soaps and laundry detergent, as well as a natural shampoo brand called Verb, which is based out of Austin.

“It’s a very clean line; it’s just not approved as organic,” she said. “We do like it because it is from Austin.”

Her goal is to reduce chemical exposure in the air and topically in the colored dyes she uses.

The salon’s tea bar serves tea from Down to Earth and sometimes snacks from Gather Café.

Community helping community

All three stores regularly collaborate, hoping to build a healthier community. They worked together to sponsor backpacks stuffed with summer supplies for foster children in April, Hebert said, along with Painting with a Twist in Beaumont, Sake sushi bar in Port Arthur, and Health Source, a chiropractic center in Nederland.

Dungan remembers when the Gather sisters started serving organic food to her store customers and in parking lots before the cafe opened.

“Desiree is also a long-time customer of ours,” Dungan said. “We’ve known her through the whole process. Desiree does our hair. We sponsored a bed out there at the Victory Garden. We supply her tea bar. The owner of Painting with a Twist [in Beaumont] constantly goes to help Gather.”

“It’s just community helping community.”