The entrance road to the new Whole Foods Market in Darien was so congested on the evening of their pre-opening party on Monday, that I glimpsed a reporter from Ch. 12 setting up a tripod to capture the line of vehicles, and the excitement. What awaited inside did not disappoint. Visitors were greeted by a friendly crew of volunteers from Person-to-Person, the beneficiary of the ten dollar entry fee, and the smile-enducing music of Arthur Lipner’s marimba and upright bass duo.
The enormous signs suspended from the ceiling with metal chains announce that Whole Foods completely understands and supports the local/sustainable food movement, and proudly sources from the Connecticut River Valley, Hudson Valley and Rhode Island. Lots of vendors from each state, plus New Jersey, were proudly handing out samples of their products from stations set up throughout the store.
At least two “producer” vendors from Connecticut participated in the festivities. Westport Aquaculture supplies Whole Foods Markets in Fairfield County, along with high-end restaurants and farmers’ markets, with super fresh, sustainably raised oysters and clams from Long Island Sound. Not surprisingly, they were among the first vendors to run out of food. Bear Pond Farm makes a wide variety of fresh, full-flavored dips and pesto sauces seasoned with USDA Organic herbs from their farm in Glastonbury. Note to those with nut allergies: their pesto sauces are nut free.
Visitors lined up at tasting stations throughout the store to sample ready-to-eat convenience products made from local and sustainable sources. The tender, juicy and flavorful organic chicken sausages from Bilinski’s in Cohoes, NY (near Albany) are made with Amish country chicken. The owner explained that the all natural version is also available for one dollar less because there’s not enough demand for 100% organic production. Tang’s Natural in Brooklyn, NY makes a very tasty chicken and vegetable dumpling using Bell & Evans chickens. The product is labeled “whole wheat dumpling”, but whole wheat is neither the first, nor the predominant ingredient according to both the package label and the product fact sheet handed to me. Ditto for their “whole wheat” noodles. A bit confusing to say the least, yet I am happy to see someone trying to do Asian healthier and they were a hit in the kids’ lunchboxes the next day. The dumplings stayed nice and warm in pre-heated food jars; just refrain from overcooking them or they’ll fall apart.
At 50,000 square feet in size, it took some time to arrive at the far end of the store where coffee, gelato, creme brulee, and chocolate were being served. How do you build and run a store of this size sustainably? Enter Green Mission Specialist Tristam Coffin, the answer book to all green questions. Do you own a hybrid vehicle? Please come charge it in one of two complementary charging stations while you shop . According to Tristam, it’s the first store in the Northeast region to offer such an amenity. And just like their recently opened Milford store, Darien Whole Foods Market is going for the gold, as in LEED certification.
Our walk through the store began in the entryway where a large recycling center awaits guests. Come here to recycle your #1 and #2 plastics and receive not only a five cent refund, but also twenty-five rewards points redeemable for merchandise in Barnes & Nobel and other major retailers. Don’t forget to bring your #5 containers, plastic bags, cell phones and corks, because they’re collected for recycling here too. The first national retailer to launch a cork recycling program, Whole Foods Market announced in April the roll out of the program with partner Cork ReHarvest to all of its 292 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Everywhere in the store Tristam pointed out green features, which in the aggregate, help move them towards their goal of zero waste by 2013 and meeting the gold LEED certification requirements. Construction materials are in many cases locally sourced and made from reclaimed or recycled including beautiful, multi-colored rectangles of glass matting ceiling signs, floors made from recycled aggregate material, and vintage-inspired tiles lining the walls behind the fish and meat counters made from 80% recycled content.
The fully compostable, 100% bullrush takeout containers, in-store composting program that gets shipped to New Milford Farm’s commercial composting facility, use of local roasters for their coffees, local artisans for their cabinet and counter construction, purchase of wind credits to offset their electric use, use of night shades and daylight harvesting to increase energy efficiency, and selection of low VOC paints all spell a dedication to sustainability. Even the shad weather vane on the roof is made from recycled metal by a local artist.
When will the Fairfield store open? This time next year, complete with its own hydrogen fuel cell.