Rebekah and Jeff McDonald knew they were onto something when their organic food co-op continued to expand despite their best efforts to discourage growth.
After taking root in the basement of the McDonalds’ duplex several years ago, Purearth Organics occupied the garage of the couple’s next home.
Then late last year, they transplanted the specialty food enterprise once again — this time into commercial premises in Cronquist Business Park.
“We just decided that we might as well go for it and provide the service to other people,” said Rebekah.
Despite operating limited hours, the No. 12, 5579 47th St. business now sells some 60 types of produce and hundreds of other items, ranging from meat and dairy goods to fruit and vegetables.
Visitors will even find clothing, cosmetics and cleaning products.
“Anything organic you can think of,” summed up Jeff. “If we’re not carrying it, we can get it.”
Purearth Organics’ customers can place orders weekly. Most perishable goods arrive at the store on Thursday morning, and by the time the doors open at 2 p.m., customized food baskets have been prepared and are awaiting pick-up.
Surplus produce and other items are available for purchase by the general public from 2 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, and again from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Friday.
Phyllis Paterson has been buying from Purearth Organics since shortly after the McDonalds started the co-op in their home. She likes the convenience of one-stop shopping and believes the food quality is superior to organic alternatives elsewhere in Red Deer.
Rebekah confessed that their motivation was self-serving when she and Jeff began filling the organic needs of the eight families in the original co-op.
The mother of three wanted to get affordable, healthy food at one location, and not worry about how long it had been sitting on the shelf.
“It was really important to us that we got good-quality stuff.”
Word spread, and the number of families involved in the organic co-op grew — even though the McDonalds urged members to keep things quiet.
The list of participating families ballooned to about 100, with about half these ordering food on a regular basis.
About a year ago, said Jeff, he and Rebekah started giving serious consideration to transforming Purearth Organics into a commercial business.
“We knew eventually somebody else was going to do it,” he said.
They now have about 130 names on their customer database, and fill 40 to 60 orders a week. Business has been conducted via email, but the McDonalds have now set up a website at www.purearthorganics.com where orders can be processed online.
This change is expected to further boost demand.
“Nobody knows about us yet, because we haven’t done any advertising,” said Rebekah.
A delivery service is now proposed, and if numbers warrant the store’s days of operation could increase.
With Rebekah home-schooling her children and Jeff working full time in the oilpatch, the hiring of staff is also a probability.
Purearth Organics is already bringing in $3,000 to $6,000 worth of produce a week, said Rebekah, comparing this to earlier days when it was a struggle to get the $900 worth of produce needed to get a break on shipping costs.
Higher volumes, she pointed out, makes it practical to bring in a broader range of goods.
“Right now, we can support three different kinds of apples.
“As we grow, the more items we’ll be able to get.”
Not everything at Purearth Organics is certified organic, said Rebekah. Some of its producers are in the process of gaining organic certification, so their goods are identified as being in transition.
She added that products are sourced from as close to home as possible, although this becomes more difficult in the winter months.
In addition to selling organic products, Purearth Organics has been trying to promote public education and awareness. It offers classes on subjects like raw food nutrition, healthy food storage and how to grow sprouts, and also organizes raw food potlucks.
“It’s a place where you can come and learn about healthier eating,” said Rebekah.