Willamette Valley View by Don HankinsOn a beautiful sunny morning in early March, I was headed north on 99E, just a few miles south of Gervais, with my son in the back seat. Not far ahead, I saw a small plane climb abruptly from behind a line of trees. I immediately switched the car’s vents to recirculate: from the pilot’s acrobatics, I could tell that the plane was a crop duster. Not far down the road on the right, we passed a spray rig dousing a field; on the left a crew of migrant laborers – all without any protective equipment – walked six abreast, each with a backpack sprayer, hosing the ground (and their boots) with a similar liquid.

That evening, my son complained of nausea; a short while later he began throwing up. Now, it’s entirely possible that his illness and the encounter with those agricultural chemicals were entirely coincidental events. I have no proof that they were connected—just a parents’ intuition. But in previous years he had gotten sick when neighbors had been out spraying.

Such is parenting in the world today. I do not know that a chemical caused my son’s brief illness, but I wonder, and I worry. There are so many novel chemicals and toxins in our environment, and in many cases we have only the vaguest ideas of the harm they may do. Synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers—many of them highly toxic chemicals—are sprayed on our food crops and the fields where they are grown. While some of these chemicals linger in the soil for years, others readily run off into rivers and groundwater, poisoning fish and amphibians or causing huge algae blooms.

Concerns for human and ecological health are why I first became interested in natural foods. While there are undoubtedly people for whom the sales of natural foods are a means to a quick buck, for those of us here at LifeSource, “natural foods” imply a much deeper ethical commitment. We use and promote natural foods as a means of improving the health of the people in our community, and the social and ecological health of our broader world.

Perhaps the clearest illustration of this dual ethic of care for people and care for the environment can be found in the items we choose to sell. Nearly 50% of the food—and 99% of the fresh produce—that we sell is certified organic. This means that you are assured that no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers have been used on these products.

While we certainly wouldn’t claim to be perfect, we do our best to positively impact our community and environment in many other ways. We have 162 solar panels on our roof; the remainder of the electricity we use is wind-sourced. We’re constantly working to reduce the amount of waste we produce, choosing compostable or easily recyclable packaging whenever possible. For example, our fish is packed on compostable trays, and you can find a variety of compostable to-go containers in our deli. We also sell milk, olive oil, vinegar, and even a beer in containers that can be returned and refilled. All in all, 90% of the potential waste that we produce is reused, recycled, or composted. You, our customers, have helped immensely in this effort: you reused over 100,000 grocery bags last year.

Because we’re a local business, the money you spend here stays in our community: independent retailers like ourselves return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales to the local economy than national or multinational chain stores. We’re very pleased to partner with local farmers and vendors—we offer about 1800 items that are grown or produced in Oregon. These items typically travel a much shorter distance to get to our door than others do, reducing the amount of fuel it takes to get them to you.

As a local business ourselves, we consider constant involvement with our community to be imperative. Many local individuals and groups offer classes and educational events in our community room. During our last fiscal year, we contributed over $20,000 to our community in the form of donation baskets, gift cards, food donations, and monetary gifts to schools, theaters, shelters, and community organizations. We provide a vehicle for our customers to donate, too: last year you donated nearly $2000 to organizations like Friends of Felines, the Willamette Humane Society, Salem Harvest, the Non-GMO Project, and the Oregon Organic Coalition, and over $13,000 to Marion-Polk Food Share.

Because I am concerned about the health of my community, both human and ecological, I got involved in natural foods, and that involvement led me to LifeSource. My coworkers and I are part of this community: we live here, work here (obviously), and play here; we breathe the same air and drink the same water that you do. And we’re glad to do our best for our human and ecological communities. We hold ourselves to a high standard, and we’re always striving to do better! We’re looking forward to many more years of working with you to improve our environment and our place in it.

Photo by: Don Hankins