The Evolution of Blue Moon

2010 marked Kath Gallant’s fifteenth year in business as a natural foods grocer in the small but historic town of Exeter, New Hampshire, and as the year began, Kath had little inkling that life would be anything but business as usual for her thriving and deeply rooted Blue Moon Market.

In 1995, Kath had identified a need for a centralized place to buy good food, and after fifteen years she was successful at doing what she loved and had set out to do: bringing local, often organic produce to her friends and neighbors, connecting area farmers to a large segment of consumers, and thereby strengthening both a farm culture and a healthy eating culture that had been languishing in years past. While her own home garden kept her connected to the earth’s cycles, these newly forged relationships with the farmers who brought goods to the shop grounded her within a larger community. The young girl who had grown up foraging throughout the year for wild berries and roots, absorbing along the way natural lessons about the seasonality of growing, had become a wife, mother, and entrepreneur who parlayed her passion for these foods into a business that meant something to her and others. Life in 2010 was good for Kath.

And then, as a matter of professional growth, Kath enrolled in a course on ethical eating. The movie Food Inc. had been released only two years before this, and the ethics of food production, the idea that several big corporations had been incrementally absorbing smaller organic food producers into their portfolios, was on many minds. It was on Kath’s. In the wake of the course and the movie, she pondered this: if once small-scale organics could be swept so decisively to disappear under the umbrella of big business – think Pillsbury, General Mills, Smuckers – how would small and organic survive?

Inspired to bring attention to small and local and organic foods and their producers, Kath planned and executed an Earth Day dinner in conjunction with Chefs’ Collaborative. The meal was served within the confines of the market and featured four courses of all locally sourced foods. Both her daughters came home to help her prepare and serve it. Her son, an accomplished musician, provided the dinner entertainment. Kath had catered from Blue Moon off and on throughout the years, so she knew how to feed crowds. What’s more, she liked it. She liked working together with her family. These components – family, the kitchen, her ideas – were strengths, and the evening was a huge success. As the family members gathered after the dinner to unwind and review the evening, Kath was overwhelmed by her children’s enthusiasm for the feat they had just pulled off.

You could do this every night, they told their mother. You have to do this!

Feed people every night? Out of the space at the market? That would mean shifting the mission from shop to restaurant. Kath considered what they had just suggested.

I might, she answered. If you all were interested in coming back here to do it with me. With that, the idea was officially on the table. And there it stayed for a little longer.

A few months after the dinner, Kath attended a Slow Money conference hosted by Bill McKibben, founder of a climate control advocacy group, to be held on the grounds of Vermont’s Shelburne Farms, a working dairy and education center. During that conference, she was introduced to the concept of slow money investing, something, in the organizers’ words, that aims to explore “new ways to connect money, culture and the soil…a new kind of social investing for the 21st century. It’s what comes after industrial agriculture and industrial finance.”

Kath and all the other attendees were left at the close of the seminar with the directive to find one thing they could do to make a difference in this process of investing in socially responsible ways. Kath realized she already knew what she could do, what she had to do, and the pieces learned over the past several months slotted into place – the ethics pondered and learned, the experience of feeding people, the ways to invest in both soil and culture. She could play a new part in keeping small, local, and organic food production alive. Her way forward, the one change she had been challenged to make was crystal clear.

Blue Moon Market must become a restaurant. It would be called Blue Moon Evolution.

So what, exactly, has changed? I asked Kath when I met with her not long after being introduced to the restaurant and its delicious – and extensive, and comprehensive – menu of foods. I hadn’t known the spot in its market incarnation so it was important for me to understand what evolution was made.

Parts of the former market still exist, Kath explained. Some fresh vegetables remain on sale, some bulk beans and grains, some customers’ beloved coffees; the well-used coffee bean grinder isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But the market mission has been severely scaled back to make way for a restaurant that now seats about 65 people.

The food Kath provides is still local and organic whenever possible. But rather than sending folks home with raw ingredients as she used to, she greets people and welcomes them into her home away from home to be fed by her and her family as they turn the raw ingredients into something both delicious and nutritious to feed customers. “It is a gift to feed people,” she told me as we sat talking in the dining room. “It’s a gift to be part of our diners’ lives, in times of celebration and in times of need.

“We feed a community.”

Diversity, Kath reminded me as we spoke, is nature’s strength. This one brief sentence she uttered highlights that Kath is never far from that little girl foraging in the fields, taking note of the world around her and, by that, coming to understand it. From her talent for observation and understanding comes the true new mission of the evolved Blue Moon: to feed everyone. On any given day, the restaurant will be populated with someone’s great grandmother, a tattooed twenty-something, and every walk of life in between.

But everyone to Kath’s way of thinking also means the carnivore, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, raw foodist, and gluten intolerant. No matter who you are, what you eat or don’t, and for whatever reason, if you come into Blue Moon Evolution, Kath and her chef and staff can feed you and will.

“I made a pledge to feed the human race, and that means everyone,” Kath stated. “Peoples’ choices need to be respected, people need to be respected for whatever place they find themselves in their food journey.”

Kath also made a pledge to feed her diverse groups the best food she can, and she does. She believes that we will all eat better if we foster relationships with local growers and eat local food. She believes the planet will be healthier. “I compare the steps I’ve made to reach my goals to soup,” Kath said. “In soup, all the ingredients have to add up to something delicious. I wouldn’t add a bad ingredient. Running the kind of business I want to run, I don’t take a step I’m not comfortable with. Making a decision that doesn’t feel comfortable is like adding that bad ingredient: the taste of it never goes away.”

While true to themselves, nothing about what the Gallant family and their extended family of chefs, staff, farmers, and occasional guest speakers who come to talk about any part of the real food revolution do is heavy handed or dourly serious. There is a real sense of joy in this restaurant, the joy that comes from doing the job at hand and doing it well, all the while staying true to oneself. Blue Moon will serve you very good food and drink, after all, not dogma. Wherever you are, whoever you are, it is food worth driving for.

“We celebrate the fact that our mission has been accomplished, that natural and organic are mainstream terms, and from this our new path is set. We strive to reduce our carbon footprint, know where our food comes from, respect the individual and honor the food and the farmer.” –Blue Moon Evolution Mission Statement

©2012 Jane A. Ward