Sunny days don’t come often here in the Monterey Bay Area of California. Recently, however, the sun appeared for a brief glorious day, and my family and I took the opportunity to take a little scenic drive up the coast to New Leaf Community Market in Capitola. This little trip ended up being a mini-adventure for my family and me, as we got to explore the beautiful Santa Cruz area (we found a sweet little surf spot just down the road from the store!) and to discover the bounty of New Leaf.
New Leaf Community Markets are all about local connections, as their name makes clear. Their mission is “to nourish and sustain our community” and they donate more than 10% of profits to local non-profit groups. Clearly, their mission is not just to provide healthful, responsibly sourced food and health products, but also to support the local producers and the local economy. I can wholeheartedly support that mission. And this very commitment to the local community would end up being a consistent theme throughout our visit.
When we first arrived I was struck by two things: one, how compact the store was, and two, how neat the layout was. Many times in health food stores, particularly ones with smaller layouts, I’ve felt overwhelmed by too many choices, crammed unattractively in every nook and cranny, but New Leaf avoids this problem. It’s really a lovely store and a joy to browse through.
Our first stop was at the milk case. I was so excited to find that they carry Claravale Farms raw milk. Here in California raw milk can be sold in stores from two certified providers, Claravale Farms being one of them. Their milk is 100% Jersey milk, which means it’s creamy—so very creamy! I think our quarts had 2 or 3 inches of cream at the top! Leaving milk unprocessed not only preserves many nutrients intact, but also means the milk flavor can pick up the unique intricacies of the area and even the season. These dairies are clean and ethically run, with happy, healthy cows producing good-quality milk. And it’s so fresh! Perhaps only a few days old, as opposed to other milk that can be weeks old before being consumed. For those who aren’t comfortable with raw milk, never fear, New Leaf also has many pasteurized options as well, focusing on organic and local dairies. I was quite impressed with the variety of options, as well as New Leaf’s care for presenting California goods to their customers.
We reached the back of the store where we found a well-stocked and beautiful produce department. Of course, here in the Salad Bowl it’s easy enough to get local produce, but I was struck by the vast selection of organics. Later, when we were checking out, the cashier informed us that about 90% of the produce is organic, with only a few exotic options from farther afield. She also informed us with palpable pride that one of their conventional tomatoes was a wonderful local product, responsibly grown, but the farmer could not afford the official organic certification. What a fantastic place, where even the clerks know and care for the tomato farmers!
But New Leaf is not only concerned with local producers; we were also able to find some well-loved pantry staples in the carefully curated grocery section. As we wandered on through, we picked up some Wild Planet tuna. At my house, we love our tuna, but for a while I had thought we would have to give it up completely, as my concerns about sustainability and ethical fishing practices grew. Living near the Monterey Bay Aquarium has really helped us to educate ourselves about seafood choices and how to best support a healthy marine ecosystem. Wild Planet is doubly attractive to me, as I know I can rest assured about the sustainability of the product even while feeding my children’s insatiable appetites for fish, and I also know I can find it easily for a reasonable price. All facets of me as a mother—health-conscious chef, frugal shopper, and ethical consumer—are satisfied by a simple can of tuna!
I also noted that New Leaf stocks Food for Life wheat-free breads, including 7 Sprouted Grains and Ezekiel 4:9 breads. We try to limit our bread intake at our house, but Food for Life is such a nice treat for us—satisfyingly hearty, like a whole wheat bread, but with a good glycemic index score (good for blood sugars!) and complete protein.
I wish I could go into excruciating detail about the wine and craft beer selection, the beautiful cheeses, the mouthwatering salad bar and pre-made section, but you’ll just have to imagine how lovely they all were (or visit yourself! Some time around lunch would be a good time to sample the delicious looking salad bar). The meat and seafood counters were pretty spectacular, too—of course emphasizing local products and guaranteed to be free from additives and hormones, as well as ethically raised or caught. New Leaf clearly takes care to source their products with the whole person and the whole community in mind.
We then turned the corner into the extensive bulk foods section. I was a little overwhelmed with the selection of alternative grains, but ultimately decided to try some amaranth. This tiny “pseudo-grain” (like quinoa) can be cooked similarly to rice or quinoa and has an unusually high quality protein. Once I got home I was excited to try it—we used it as a rice substitute for dinner one night and as an oatmeal substitute for breakfast. It has a really earthy, nutty flavor, which is one of the pros of eating ancient grains—more flavor! I know that it was really a small victory, buying a new grain and cooking it successfully, but I feel good enough about my skills in the alternative-grains department now to look forward to going back to the bulk section for some new challenges! I’m always excited to find new ways to stretch my cooking skills and excite my palate.
We finished up our shopping time in the supplements and beauty department of the store. I think a pitfall that many specialty or health food stores fall into is the impulse to carry every supplement known to man, resulting in a cluttered section that’s impossible to peruse quickly. New Leaf, thankfully, obviously curates their health and beauty section as well and as thoughtfully as the rest of the store, because I found it clean, organized, and well, but reasonably, stocked. New Leaf has their own line of supplements called Bloom, and I’m trying their Vitamin D3 right now—I’m impressed with both the quality and the price!
New Leaf also carries MegaFood supplements, which are meant to boost a diet of whole foods with supplements as close to whole food as possible. MegaFood supplements are also non-GMO verified and quality assured, guaranteed to be free of gluten and soy and other contaminants. I’m currently taking their Blood Builder formulation as a way to combat anemia naturally. I’ve heard that most iron supplements can have some unpleasant side effects, but MegaFood’s promise to be gentle on the digestive tract definitely holds true for me—and my iron levels are doing great!
Of course, I also found Wiley’s Finest Wild Alaskan Fish Oil on the shelves as well. As a mom in the middle of her fertile years, it’s my responsibility to nourish my children well, whether while gestating, nursing, or feeding them at the table. The EPA and DHA found in fish and fish oil is so very important for children’s mental development and cellular health that I make sure to complement our diet (already high in fish consumption!) with fish oil every day. I would give my family fish oil even if I couldn’t find Wiley’s Finest products, but I’m so glad to use them because, besides providing a quality product that is essential to our good health, they are also committed to sustainability and ethical fishing practices. This just makes sense to me, as I would really like my great-grandchildren to be able to enjoy fish too!
After a long trek with the whole family in tow, we were all a little tired, a little cranky. Thank goodness New Leaf has a wonderful little café called New Beet. In keeping with the New Leaf commitment to local products, the café menu clearly marked which ingredients were locally sourced, giving the customer the opportunity to customize their order to be wholly local, should they so desire. We saw happy families of fit mothers and their glowing children stopping in for wheatgrass shots, so we had to try something! We ended up sharing a delicious low sugar, high-antioxidant berry smoothie and a warm blueberry muffin. This gave us the strength and fortitude we needed to face the long drive back home!