by Bill Batson
There has been a health food store at the corner of Main Street and Broadway for over 30 years. The current incarnation, Sweetpea’s Market, is owned by David Collins. When not organizing Nyack’s annual Halloween Parade, or serving as the treasurer for the Nyack Chamber of Commerce, David can be found behind the cash register or stocking the shelves at his organic grocery store and restaurant.
What was your earliest health food store experience?
While awaiting a ride to rural Virginia to live in an ashram, I bagged bulk fruits and nuts at the health food store owned by that community. That was 30 years ago.
When did it become necessary to declare some food healthier than other food?
As I understand it, what we call conventional agriculture has only been around since the early 1900’s, when synthetic fertilizers began to be created. That could be considered one starting point. Additionally, the creation of interstate highways led to a boom in “fast food” production, helping move society away from traditional meals cooked with simple ingredients, to heavily processed, marginally healthy convenience meals.
What are some of your personal nutrition and dietary practices that your customers might want to follow?
I am a poor example to follow, although for 30 years I have eaten primarily foods from stores like my own. Critically, I encourage everyone to be careful when eating out, especially when ordering animal products, as easily 75% of antibiotic production is for use on the animals we eat! Additionally, a primarily raw foods diet for a few weeks can do wonders for weight loss and energy gain—if only I had the will power to do this more frequently.
You serve on the Chamber of Commerce helping manage the Farmers Market and the Halloween Parade. Where did you develop your interest in civic participation?
It’s funny, a fellow board member pitched my role on the Chamber as “consultative.” I quickly found that was not the case, yet once I got involved with direct projects, such as the Halloween parade, it showed me how great it feels to volunteer alongside so many other enthusiastic colleagues—and let’s face it, for all the hard work, when the parade steps off, it is awesome, and very gratifying to have played a part.
What brought you to Nyack?
As an account representative for a natural foods distributor, the then “Born of Earth” was a store on which I called, and I fell in love with the village from there.
Who is Sweetpea?
Andrea Cerullo, my beautiful girlfriend of nearly nine years, and a key provider of our delicious prepared foods.
What are some of the challenges of running a health food store?
In my case, adapting to a changing marketplace and economy. In general, keeping a business like this fresh and exciting is an ongoing challenge for most store owners.
How are you different from the bigger, retail health food stores?
In the positive sense, we can respond to trends faster, are often the ones who develop independently owned, smaller companies’ products, and particularly are able to provide more personalized service than larger stores.
How is the health food business different today than it was ten years ago?
Organic agriculture and awareness has increased several orders of magnitude, to the point where local drug stores and filling stations routinely stock organic milk and eggs. There is a much larger internet presence for these products as well, combined with door-to-door delivery options.
Are there any trends in health food that you are excited about?
While the non-GMO debate interests me greatly, I am actually more excited by the move to recognize fairly traded items on a large scale. Continued moves in this direction help ensure a fighting chance for farmers in the countries where many of our commodities are grown, such as coffee, chocolate and sugar.
Are there any trends that concern you?
I suppose the not so new “trend” of large companies to lobby for diluted agricultural standards and practices, especially as regards the organic label. Likewise, while I do not know if Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) products themselves are dangerous to humans, the concept of developing a product that can withstand even larger applications of toxic pesticides is quite unnerving to me.
What should a consumer expect from something labeled organic?
Generally, the food so labeled will be grown without the use of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. Ideally the grower will move beyond that to encourage minimal erosion of topsoil, as well as crop rotation and diversity. The big three no-no’s remain no irradiation, no GMO’s and no human sewage sludge as a fertilizer (yes, it happens in the conventional world.)
What are some of the more popular items on your restaurant menu?
Tuesday’s Eggplant Parmigiana is the clear winner, followed closely by Friday’s Macaroni and Cheese. Our soups move quite quickly as well, especially now!
Some of the soups we serve are Black Bean, Chicken Vegetable, Red Lentil Cilantro, Chicken and Butternut Squash, Herb Vegetable, Vegan Chili with Quinoa, and Bison Chili.
Do you deliver?
We did just start testing a delivery program, and are eager to expand it further. We are still working out the details, and certainly would like more “beta testers.”
You can find out the daily special by visiting Sweetpea’s Facebook page.
Sweetpea’s Market is open Monday through Friday from 8a until 7p, on Saturdays from 9a-6p and on Sundays from 10a – 6p.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Sweetpea’s Market” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.