The Miracles Of Food
The storefront windows of the newest addition to Bellevue Avenue’s commercial strip are wide and tall and clear, and bear the legend Little House Green Grocery, which seems to hover in front of a clean well-organized interior space with black-and-white tile floors.
Commercial strips are organic by nature. Years and years ago, I’m told, a total of three grocery stores lined Bellevue Avenue, but they’ve been closed for decades now and their absence has always been keenly felt. One of the most important components of any retail district is a grocery store because it literally feeds the neighborhoods surrounding it. And now North Side finally has what it’s sorely missed for years, and it’s not your average, run-of-the mill grocer. Here you can buy foods that are all healthful and by so doing support our local community of growers and food artisans of every description.
Inside the space is bright but not blindingly so. Everything is white from walls to shelving, clean and minimal to better show off the produce and pantry staples. It does not crowd you in and it’s easy to find exactly what you’re looking for at a glance, thanks to the extreme care for order here.
“We are a neighborhood grocery store with tons of local products and pantry staples so you can come in and get wonderful, fresh things for dinner every day,” says Erin Wright, one of the owners. “We’ve already got a lot of regular shoppers and then we have people that come in when they’re cooking for something special.”
At that moment a man brings in a box of frozen taste treats made of fruit and other fresh ingredients. He works with King of Pops which is located on Dabney Road just a couple miles to the southwest of this grocery store.
“The idea here is twofold,” Jessica Goldberg, co-owner of Little House, tell me. “We are here to provide fresh food to the neighborhood, and to support local vendors that we have here in Richmond—farmers, bakers, people who raise animals.” Then she adds, with a quick turn of the head, “And Popsicle makers.”
Jessica gestures toward the freezer and the produce. “We have a relationship with that beef; we have a relationship with that spinach,” she says. “I can tell you where everything comes from.”
Erin nods and says, “The growers come in we get to talk to them. We’ve been to a lot of their farms. It is a very intimate relationship.”
Not all of what they sell at Little House is produced by local farmers and food artisans, though a lot of it is. As we approach the dairy case, Jessica says, “Local yogurt, local milk, farm fresh eggs, local Kimchi, local cinnamon rolls, local quiche, local hot dogs and bacon; but then we have chicken sausage from far away because people wanted chicken sausage. We take in mind what the customer wants.”
Even before their grand opening on December 15, Erin and Jessica sought out feedback from the neighborhood. Jessica holds a stack of questionnaires, small cards that asked residents what products they would like to see stocked in this grocery store. “We paid attention because we wanted our customers to know that this is their grocery store,” says Jessica.
Erin points out a shelf lined with dry goods, many of which were selected because of the input from shoppers. “We listen to all requests,” she says.
Shopping at the Green Grocery can be somewhat of an education. Both Erin and her partner know food well and they’re passionate about it.
Jessica steps over to a case lined with packages containing a variety of dried beans, all by Rancho Gordo which operates out of California’s fertile Napa Valley. These are heirloom beans, carefully cultivated and grown in limited quantities. Rancho Gordo set out to insure that these heirlooms, many of which were on the brink of extinction, survived, and a number of these beans are actually direct descendants of the indigenous beans grown in North America before European conquest, and their taste and texture is unsurpassed. So as you eat these sapid packets of protein you are sampling what Native American Indians tasted more than 500 years ago. And in this way food becomes cultural heritage as well as physical sustenance.
“We want to introduce you to companies who are thinking good and doing great things,” Jessica says. “Like Rancho Gordo which is really preserving a tradition of beans that are native to North America.”
On another shelf, next to Agave syrup, which is imported from elsewhere, there are glass flasks of maple syrup, which is made right here in Virginia, out in Monterey, by the parents of a Bellevue resident.
The store throughout is peppered liberally with products made right here in Virginia. Like Pungo Creek Mills corn meal that is grown and ground over on the Eastern Shore near the village of Painter. This is the real stuff, Indian corn, the same thing the aboriginal tribes of Virginia ate and shared with Jamestown colonists. It’s colorful corn—dark blue and yellow and russet and white—so the end product is not merely tasty, but polychromatic.
The owners are constantly on the lookout for new sources of good foods. If you haven’t dropped in recently make sure you do so soon. The variety of products is increasing all the time. “Our product selection has expanded about fifty percent since when we started,” says Erin.
Not long ago the pair began selling wine and beer, some of which is locally made, including wines from Cross Keys and beer from Hardywood, Full Nelson and Legend. “We also carry gluten-free beer,” Erin says. “We had requests for it.”
Both these women are sensitive to the dietary needs and wants of their customers. “A lot of our customers are very health conscious whether they be vegan, whether they be gluten free, whether they be vegetarian, whether they be on a Paleo diet, you name it,” says Jessica. “So we try to have a wide variety of things.”
Little House also offers prepared food from Sticky Togogo. And virtually every Saturday and Sunday there are workshops or food tastings at the store. “May is full of gardening classes and food tastings,” Erin says. “We’re happy to showcase people and their expertise. We’ve got a compost class coming up.”
The food tastings have become extremely popular. “We’ve had tastings of bulk fresh sausage from Sausage Craft, local artisan sausage makers, and those are a lot of fun and it smells great in here,” says Jessica. In the not-too-distant future Little House Green Grocery will begin hosting wine tastings, according to Erin.
Nothing inside this grocery store is ever wasted, simply dumped into a trash receptacle, which seems consistent with the over-riding philosophy of the two owners. “All the food that we don’t sell we donate locally to the St. Thomas Food Pantry,” Erin says. “And we’re going to start composting and our compost will go to the Dandelion Garden at Holton (Elementary School).”
“We just really love this community,” says Jessica.
“We’re part of this community,” Erin says. “We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Mon-Fri, 11-7; Sat-Sun, 11-5
1227 Bellevue Avenue