Our mission at Foodwaze is to help you find the healthiest options for food, whether it’s at a restaurant, grabbing a cup of coffee, or shopping for groceries. As consumers, you have an inordinate number of choices, particularly when it comes to shopping for groceries. Just about every supermarket under the sun offers at least some organic or natural food, and trying to navigate the marketing claims can be maddening.
Beginning in our home state of Virginia, we present to you our Foodwaze top markets for the healthiest food. First, it’s important to understand what we at Foodwaze consider to be the healthiest food. We have coined a different term for it called reganic food, which is really an abbreviation of the term regenerative organic agriculture. In short, reganic food bears similarities to organic or sustainable food, but is more specific to the properties of rebuilding, restoring, and regenerating the human body and the planet itself. This is particularly important in the production of meat. Organic labels – and the gamut of misleading marketing terms like cage free, grass fed, and free range – do not always represent the highest quality meat products raised on family farms around this country using regenerative practices. At these farms, “pasture-raised” and “grass-fed” are not marketing gimmicks; they are features of holistic systems where building fertile soil and regenerating forage lands are integral to raising livestock, producing healthy food, and protecting the environment. Read this helpful explanation about the benefits of regenerative organic agriculture.
Suffice to say, the meat sold at the markets on our list is one thing that helps set them apart. Defining what a market actually is can be tough since so many food businesses theses days are multi-functional. So we’ve tried to stick to the ones that are most akin to a traditional grocery store, although none are really like the modern-day chain grocery stores. This list does not include farmers markets, or more specialized markets such as butcher shops or stores that focus on a specialty item such as soup. We have separate categories for them and will provide you with our top choices in future posts.
To make this list, the markets must provide a majority of their produce from local, reganic sources. The same goes for their meat, as long as they are selling it. And eggs too. Don’t be fooled by the eggs at large chains bearing all sorts of confusing claims, including the word “organic.” The eggs generally available at our list of markets are from local farms practicing true-pastured methods.
There are no nationally recognized chain stores on this list. While we applaud what many of them are doing to increase the awareness of organic and natural foods, we don’t think they compare with our list below in the quality of local, reganic produce, meat, and eggs. Many of the smaller family farms whose amazing products are available at the markets on our list, cannot be found at the national chains.
Disclaimer: You will see three businesses listed below from Charlottesville. Foodwaze is based in Charlottesville. While we could be accused of bias, we can say with confidence that these three businesses would be on the list no matter where they were located.
So without further ado, we begin in Northern Virginia and circle through the state counter-clockwise. They are in geographic order. It’s not a ranking.
The Local Market (Falls Church)
We start with one of the smallest on the list to prove that small, family owned businesses can, and should, compete in a world of bigger-is-better food. In fact, at Foodwaze we stress small is often better, and this applies to the amount of food offered at restaurants too. With that said, co-owner Patrick Fleming says he’s eager to expand the business a little bit, and we’re certain that would be a good thing for the town of Falls Church… and beyond. Not all small “health food” stores execute as well as this one does. You’ll find plenty of reganic produce, meat, eggs… and the highest quality wild-caught Alaskan fish from Cold Country Salmon, a small, family fishing business based in Virginia.
MOM’s Organic Market (Northern Virginia)
We quickly jump to the biggest on the list. MOM’s Organic Market is a chain of 16 stores stretching as far as New Jersey. They’re based in Maryland, which is where the majority of their stores are located. But they have five in Northern Virginia, including Alexandria, Arlington, Herndon, Woodbridge, and Merryfield. What’s truly impressive about this business is its commitment to high standards, despite its size. This includes 100% organic produce and meats from local, reganic farms, including Ayrshire Farm in Loudoun County. Three of their Virginia locations also have a Naked Lunch, which is their vegetarian cafe with all-organic ingredients.
Gentle Harvest (Marshall)
This is the newest place on our list. In fact it is so new, it’s not even open at the time we are publishing this post. It’s located in an old bank building in this small town just off I-66, and it’s been under renovation all summer. We had a chance to visit very recently, and it was still a hard-hat site…not a speck of real food to be found. This may seem like a leap of faith to include it on the list, but it’s absolutely not. In fact, we expect this to be one of the most dynamic real-food businesses in the state. It’s the brainchild of Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems in the 1980s. She owns nearby Ayrshire Farm, a sprawling ecological farm raising a variety of livestock using regenerative practices. The farm is certified organic and has several other certifications. Foodwaze has visited the farm, as well as the Home Farm Store in Middleburg, which was the predecessor to Gentle Harvest. This newer store (rendering below) will also stock Ayrshire’s farm products, but it is bigger and will feature a large cafe, drive through window… and a mobile app for ordering meals and groceries in advance! It will also serve as the flagship for additional locations around the state, starting with Winchester coming this fall.
Friendly City Food Co-op (Harrisonburg)
This is one of two community food cooperatives on our list. The cooperative movement dates back to the 19th century and has seen a modern-day resurgence. It goes without saying, though, that not all are created equal. But if every community could follow the model of Friendly City, our food system would be so much better off. This place nails it in all the right places. Among a great selection of local produce are usually certified organic selections from nearby Radical Roots Community Farm. The store sells meat from two amazing local farms: J & L Green Farm, and the renown Polyface Farm. It also has organically grown wheat berries from nearby Heartland Harvest Farm.
Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op (Roanoke)
As with its brethren in Harrisonburg, this co-op rocks. It dates back to 1975 and has stayed true to is mission of supporting sustainable environmental practices and local organic farmers. The main location is in Grandin Village, where you can find the Happy Belly Deli in the back. But they also have a smaller satellite location downtown at the year-round open-air city market. From 2012-2015, the co-op ran a nearby urban farm called Heritage Point where they grew some of their own vegetables for the store. Sadly, they stopped cultivating the property in 2016 due to the enormous challenges of farming and running the store, according to John Bryant, the co-op’s marketing manager. They are currently seeking a partner to take over the 17 1/2 acre space. It doesn’t have to remain a farm, but we’ll chime in and say, “Please someone take this beautiful space over and keep urban organic farming alive and well in Roanoke!” Click here for more information.
Harvest Moon Food Store (Floyd)
This is the market on our list you might be least likely to stumble across. The store is just on the edge of downtown Floyd, which has a population of around 400 people. If you’ve never been to Floyd, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s charming and beautiful, tucked in the western foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lodge style architecture of this store is also unique and inviting. The business itself dates back to the early ‘80s when it opened in a smaller location, and it well represents an impressive commitment to real food and regenerative agriculture in the town of Floyd, and the surrounding county. Make an effort to go here!
Heritage Natural Market (Virginia Beach)
This is the oldest business on our list, founded by Tom Johnson in 1969. They moved into their current store in 2011. It also has a cafe and is one mile from the oceanfront… ideal for beach-goers. There are some other interesting things about this place, such as the holistic center where you can get a massage, salt scrub, and even some psychic services. But we’ve strayed from the food, which we can assure you is consistent with the values we’ve applied to all the markets on this list. And did we mention the beach?
Little House Green Grocery (Richmond)
Think “little” as in quant, neighborhood-like. That’s a great description for this market located in the Bellvue neighborhood in Northside Richmond. But “little” certainly doesn’t define what they do. In fact their large commitment to many local regenerative farms makes it worth seeking out LHGG even if you don’t live around this neighborhood. Here are are a few worth noting: Keenbell Farm, Manakintowne Specialty Growers, Tricycle Gardens, and Forrest Green Farm. LHGG also sells a Veggie Box, which is a subscription for a fresh selection of local and organic produce, packed and ready for easy pick up every week.
Ellwood Thompson’s (Richmond)
Ellwood’s fans would probably agree that you can’t go to Ellwood’s enough. In fact, if we had to designate a crown jewel of markets in Virginia, this might be it. Their produce department is top-flight, featuring many farms from the Richmond area that are Certified Organic or Certified Naturally Grown. They also sell produce from Riverstone Organic Farm, which we mention because we love it, and it’s located in previously mentioned Floyd, and we can’t talk about Floyd enough. Ellwood’s also sells 100% grass-fed beef from Highland Orchard Farm in Albemarle County, which we believe is one of the most amazing diversified holistic farms in the state, and hopefully you’ll hear more from them in the many years to come. Lastly, Ellwood’s does an amazing job with its prepared foods. They sell a lot of it, but having compared it to some of the big-name competitors, we’ll take the prepared food at Ellwood Thompson’s over those others any day.
Rebecca’s Natural Food (Charlottesville)
Eggs, eggs, and more eggs. Remember what we said about some of the misleading claims on organic and pastured eggs sold at major chains? There’s none of that here. This has the most amazing selection of eggs under one roof from local farms that are really, truly raising their hens on pasture where they feast daily on bugs, worms, and grass. Ayrshire Farm’s eggs are a recent new addition. Rebecca’s has been around for decades and survived the onslaught from all the big guns, because their loyal customers know what sets them apart. It’s not just eggs. They have fantastic local produce and lots of meat from several amazing nearby regenerative farms, including Free Union Grass Farm and Wolf Creek Farm
Integral Yoga Natural Foods (Charlottesville)
This is the only vegetarian business on our list. Being vegetarian is one thing, but eating green food that’s clean is what we like to focus on and IYNF delivers. We’ve already touched on the availability of real food in Charlottesville. With all the competition, we believe this place has the best local, reganic produce day in and day out. It’s also a stalwart, enduring more than three decades of a steadily increasing number of rivals all around it. Here are just some of the farms you’ll find here whose crops you must get your hands on: Whisper Hill Farm, Bellair Farm, and Brightwood Vineyard and Farm.
Timbercreek Market (Charlottesville)
Their official name includes the word “market.” But it could be a butcher shop, a restaurant, or a farm store. Whatever you want to call it, we’re confident this could be a model for the future. The business, which is in downtown Charlottesville, is owned and operated by Timbercreek Farm, located several miles to the west of town. Using rotational grazing and regenerative practices, the farm raises a variety of livestock including pork, chicken, and 100% grass-fed beef. In addition to the meat, you can satisfy many of your shopping needs here, including milk, eggs, and organically grown produce not only from Timbercreek but other local farms, such as Schuyler Greens hydroponics.
Kickshaws Downtown Market (Fredericksburg)
This charming market in downtown Fredericksburg definitely would have been the smallest on our list, but it’s just gotten bigger. They’ve taken over two adjacent spaces, one that’s opened this September as a cafe and another that will open in the future as an expansion of their bakery operation. But charm and size don’t seem as important to owner Kathy Craddock as her mission is. She opened the market in 2014 to help other people experience the same advantages that helped changed her life. For years, she endured debilitating physical ailments that were either misdiagnosed or unexplained by many different doctors. Finally on her own, she eliminated gluten from her diet, as well as all processed foods and additives. She did the same for her two children. The positive results were enough to spur her to action, and Kickshaws was born. Not only is the business gluten free, but they sell a great selection of local reganic produce and pasture-raised meats. Look for more of Kathy’s story in an upcoming Foodwaze blog.
Harvest Market (Spotsylvania)
Spotsylvania County is no slouch. It’s the 8th largest county in the state by population and is home to many DC commuters. And yet shopping for healthy food here would be painful… if not for Harvest Market. It saves the day in a big way, offering local produce, meat, and eggs from local regenerative farms, as well as a wide array of organic and natural products. What’s also very cool about this place: the huge bags of organic poultry feed for the modern homesteader, reminding us that we are what we eat eats, as author Michael Pollan first made clear to us all.
What did we miss? Please comment below or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that Foodwaze does not accept advertising or any other fees from food businesses, nor do we participate in affiliate programs on our blog with any food businesses. All markets and farms referenced in this blog, with links, are businesses we have chosen to identify based on the merits of their practices, in accordance with the principles and values we advocate on Foodwaze. All markets and farms have been visited by a member of the Foodwaze team to verify their practices, and none have paid to be included in this blog.