Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and How I Miss the Ranch

It’s strange to say that it was only six months ago that I ventured out from my beautiful ranch in Montana to the southern side of California and made a swap from rural to urban, country to city, ranch to condo and garden to supermarket. Super, emphasized. It feels like it’s been forever. It feels like I haven’t seen or felt real, solid dirt in too long. I miss driving along the dirt road and waving to farmers in their Carhartt bibs. I miss knowing that if I ever got a flat tire, the guy down the way would fix it. I miss walking a mile in any direction from my front yard without seeing anything but the great Big Sky.

But I love the weather here. Oh how I love the weather! I also love other things. I love the farmers markets here with a fierce passion. Did you know that my favorite types of produce grow all year long in these places? I came in September and there hasn’t been a day I couldn’t walk half a mile and pick a lemon. Another mile and I could pluck an orange fresh from a tree. And, when I first arrived, I fell instantly in love with two places: Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I’d say for a good solid month, I went to Whole Foods every chance I got.

This is not to say that there were not the same “type” of stores in Montana, but they were maybe something like 1/100th of the scale of these stores. I could find organic anything at Whole Foods; I felt healthier just walking through the store. I would often just go and hang out, purely for the heck of it. I’d wander the aisles awhile, completely in awe. Whole wheat everything! I was a kid in a candy store. And after perusing, I’d go sit down and just watch. I was completely fascinated with being surrounded by people who also wanted to live organically, naturally, sustainably. I loved the store. I loved the groceries. I loved the people. I felt a sense of community like never before. It was heavenly.

But, as often happens, time changed my outlook. The novelty started wearing off when I found myself wishing that instead of Whole Foods Native Granola with Almonds, I was eating my mother’s homemade granola with almonds. Instead of purchasing organic, free-range chickens at a price that terrified me, I longed for the days when my freezer was full of home grown chickens and beef raised on our land. Instead of driving through traffic to the farmers' market and fighting my way to find a parking spot, there grew an ever stronger pull at my heart. To walk out the front door of the ranch house, through the gate, down the hill, up a hill and into my mother’s luscious lavish garden. Tended with love.

I was eating more “certified-organic” than ever before. But, the truth is that our eggs felt more organic. My previous attempts at making yogurt, while not always successful, had left me feeling more satisfied than purchasing Trader Joe’s variety. And the prepared items that had once left me breathless with excitement over an array unimaginable to me before? They slowly began to lose all sense of appeal when I craved meatloaf from home with grilled zucchinis just dropped off by a neighbor. Homemade banana bread or Trader Joe's banana bread mix? Oh, how quickly things change. The farmers' market? Still equally impressive, I don’t think that will ever change. But, I don’t know a single farmer there. And let me tell you folks: an Orange County, California farmer doesn’t dress the same as a southwest Montana farmer. But I can still smile about it.

Is the ranch better than the stores? Not necessarily. Do I miss it a whole lot more than I did six months ago? Absolutely. With naivety came a type of excitement. But, I still love Whole Foods. And I still love Trader Joe's. And I love the men working in the produce department and wish they’d marry me every time I go in. So I ask silly questions about what’s in season and what I should buy. And I still venture out to the farmers' market on a weekly basis. And I laugh and chat with the goofy UCI students who cross grapefruit and tangerines and come up with names like tangelos. They’re farmers too, after all. (Just better dressed.) And they probably wouldn’t know how to change my tire. But that’s okay.

Mostly, I just appreciate where I came from a whole lot more. It was simpler. More affordable. And, I like to think, grown with more love.

Tara Alley is a Montana native and freelance writer who is passionate about living and discovering a more sustainable lifestyle. She is currently working alongside Coffee Home Direct and writing about fair-trade organic coffee. To see more of her writing, you can follow her on Twitter @hopesiempre.