Sunflower Market: In Full Bloom | Branded Content | Markets & Cafes | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Bob Whitcomb started Sunflower Market in 1978 with a degree in food service management and the conviction that peace, love, and granola-loving Woodstock residents deserved a place to buy healthy food. Over the past 45 years, Sunflower has developed a reputation as a welcoming and down-to-earth place to shop for organic, all-natural, and non-GMO foods. It has also become a leader in the local community through its work supporting local farms, charitable organizations, the environment, and its staff and customers.

"A plant will only grow as strong as its roots," says Melissa Misra, Whitcomb's stepdaughter and Sunflower's Vice President. "If we keep our roots strong, Sunflower will continue to grow and provide for our community."

Long Live Local

click to enlarge Sunflower Market: In Full Bloom
Organic, all-natural, and local produce at Sunflower Market.

Much of Sunflower's growth in recent years—the opening of its Rhinebeck location in 2014 and the Woodstock expansion in 2019—can be attributed to the second generation of owners, Melissa Misra and her former husband Paku Misra.

After doubling the size of the business by the late 90s, Whitcomb and his wife Roz Balkin began to think of passing the baton on to Melissa and Paku. "We both had passions for food, and it seemed like a really wonderful opportunity for it to be a family venture," says Melissa Misra. The two brought their backgrounds in marketing, media, and technology to the table, and began to identify areas where Sunflower could improve its impact.

One of the first things the family focused on was increasing the accessibility and affordability of the items they sold. To that end, they joined the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association, a purchasing cooperative of more than 300 independent natural and organic grocers across the US.

click to enlarge Sunflower Market: In Full Bloom
Organic, all-natural, and local meat products at Sunflower Market.

"Rightly so, a lot of people think that whole foods are inaccessible," Misra says. "We wanted to make sure we had greater buying power, so we could bring in high-quality goods and produce and price it in a way that's not going to break the bank for our customers. It's important for us to remain connected to our customers and our employees so we can help them fit everything on their list that their budget can allow."

Another of their priorities was to better support and highlight local farms and bring in a wider variety of health and wellness products. "We have buyers always searching for local farms. I really wanted to feature those farms more prominently and to tell their stories, because we want them to grow in strength and number," Misra says.

They also keep a close eye on everything they stock, and pay special attention when changes happen that can affect the integrity of any product. "A lot of the larger companies and regular grocery stores are doing what they can now to bring in natural and organic products," Misra says. "But independent natural food retailers are the ones leading the pack. We're the ones looking when someone like Pepsi buys a small food company and suddenly there's a new ingredient in that product that we don't support."

The Sustainability Ethos

Sunflower's commitment to sustainability doesn't stop at the items on its shelves. The family takes a holistic approach to running the business, and has always championed supporting its staff, customers, and community in ways that demonstrate care.

"The solar panels on the roof were something my stepfather was a huge proponent of decades ago, and I always wanted to do away with plastic bags and was so thankful when New York passed legislation that allowed us to do so easily," Misra says. "Our Woodstock expansion was also a great opportunity for us to quietly take steps to diminish the size of our carbon footprint."

They purchased new energy-efficient lighting, refrigerators, and other equipment for the expanded store, and were finally able to add a generator that could power the whole store when the electricity goes out in town. "Paku and I were so frustrated for many years because we didn't have the ability to run the store on a generator if need be," Misra says. "We wanted to be the place where people could get necessities in a crisis, like ice, milk, and bread, and now we are. It's a huge part of providing for our community."

click to enlarge Sunflower Market: In Full Bloom
Prepared foods at Sunflower Market make a meal on the go easy.

Sunflower has a long history of supporting local organizations that align with its mission, such as Family of Woodstock, the Center of the Prevention of Child Abuse, and the Rhinebeck Farmers Market. "These organizations are fighting to stay alive and do this work in our communities, and they need every ounce they can get," Misra says.

It is also a Pet Path sponsor for the Ulster County SPCA, a program that helps transport animals facing euthanasia in shelters to safety at the SPCA and provides produce and compost to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, where it also sponsors the cost of caring for twin cows. This spring, Sunflower also made a large donation to Woodstock Elementary to provide a major update to its beloved playground.

"We are a business mainly for two reasons: To provide for the community and to provide a living wage for our employees," says Misra. "It's not about how you beat out the other guys. It's about following the tenets that you've chosen to live by."

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