The year was 1975. The Vietnam War ends with the Fall of Saigon, Wheel of Fortune made its debut on NBC, Bill Clinton makes Hillary Rodham his wife, and a small group of Lincoln residents open a small grocery store on the corner of 27th and Randolph streets specializing in locally grown and natural foods. That store was Open Harvest.

“We started off as a food buying club in the early ’70s. A bunch of people from Lincoln got together because they couldn’t get the kinds of food that they wanted. They wanted to be able to buy in bulk, they wanted to be able to buy local, they wanted to be able to buy organic, untreated grains. That kind of thing,” said Margot Conrad, the store’s assistant general manager.

Click here to hear Conrad explain why she thinks the organic grocery industry is growing in popularity.  
By avoiding foods that are grown with pesticides and herbicides, Laura Pales of Beatrice hopes to keep her family healthy in the future. Photo by Kurtis Harms, NewsNetNebraska.

Open Harvest is a cooperative (co-op) business. Click here to learn how a co-op business operates.

Since Open Harvest began business in the mid ’70s, the store has relocated, but maintains its mission to provide shoppers with the freshest, all-natural foods. Some of the store’s customers travel several miles to purchase these naturally grown and organic foods.

“I come up once, sometimes twice a week to grocery shop just to buy organic. To me, it’s well worth the drive. All and all, I’ll pay more money just to buy organic,” said Laura Pales of Beatrice.

In its history spanning over three decades, business at Open Harvest has continued to grow. The store’s annual report projects that grocery sales will exceed $3.5 million during the 2007/2008 fiscal year. This is an eight percent increase from the previous year’s report. This growth isn’t only a local trend, but also a national one.

“The amount of organic food in the marketplace is increasing. Sales have grown by around 20 percent per year for over two decades. This reflects increasing production and demand,” says Dr. Charles Francis, professor of agronomy with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Know your organic products?  Click here to learn about the different types of groceries you can buy at Open Harvest.  

For foods to be certified organic, they must meet specific requirements. Fields must be clear of pesticides and herbicides for three years before being considered, and crop producers must keep substantial records on all aspects of the agricultural operation.

Click here for complete and specific USDA organic guidelines.

In addition to protecting the environment from chemicals, some grocery shoppers also select organic products to maintain health. However, no evidence has been found linking organic foods to good health.

“The way the USDA defines organic is those food products, whether it is meat or oranges or apples, or whatever it is, are grown in a certain way. It does not mean that these organic foods are any safer or any nutritionally better than your regular conventional foods,” said Dr. Harshavardhan Thippareddi, associate professor of food science at UNL.

The cost of organic foods is usually higher than conventionally produced foods, but that doesn’t hinder some consumers. Nino Zhvania is a graduate student at UNL and has always bought natural and organic foods.

“I do believe that it is worth paying more for a good product; for a safe product. And to be sure that you will be healthy rather than to pay less and buy something that you are not sure about,” said Zhvania.

Click here to hear more from Nino Zhvania on her decision to buy only organic and naturally produced foods.