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Going to the Beach for the Health of It

By Prudence Bruns | Photography by Shelly Swanger

Initially, I wanted to write about what makes this area we live in so unique. Of course, there are many things that set the area apart, such as natural beauty, the architecture, and the people, to name just a few. Countless articles have been written on the architecture and even more on the natural beauty, but not so many on the people. Therefore, I decided to focus there. When I first came to Seagrove Beach in 1970, it was a very small retirement community. Highway 30A stretched west to the eastern edge of what would later become Seaside; to the east, it did not even reach Eastern Lake.

There were maybe thirty or forty scattered cinder-block homes. When my husband and I wanted to find other young people, the Butler Store—predecessor to The Red Bar—was where the action could be found. We got there by walking west along the beach, and we had only the moonlight and stars to light our way home. The land to our east seemed to stretch endlessly over magnificent blinding-white sand dunes, sometimes reaching twenty to forty feet high, sporadically filled at their base with hidden oases cut deep and hollowed into the sand by gnarled, rich and cooling green magnolias and windswept oaks. We loved climbing down into the darkened shadows of those hidden crevices. In their shade, it felt almost as though a cold river were running through them. Intermittently, we could count on seeing one of the several pristine lakes scattered along the Gulf shoreline, surrounded by their signature tall green pines.

Over the early 1970s, gradually and quietly, people were settling back in the woods, building small self-contained homes. These people were usually hearty and interesting but not concerned with social life. They had left society for the solitude and beauty of the nature found here. We rarely encountered them except at Mrs. Russell’s grocery store, where the Seagrove Village Market is presently situated. Mrs. Russell and her husband lived in the back of the store, which was filled mostly with canned goods, ice cream bars, cold drinks, and some tourist beach balls and towels.

vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food  

In the late ’70s, our community experienced its first green and socially conscious movement when One Seagrove Place suddenly sprouted up, materializing from nowhere. The huge towering building, a glaring blight on the landscape, stole our perfect skyline. In a state of shock, local people could be found milling around its massive concrete base, solemnly observing the behemoth as though at a funeral. But it took the second high-rise, which was built within blocks of the first, to mobilize a small, determined group of local citizens who fought long and hard, eventually bringing about the later ruling that no buildings over four stories could be built. Without their vision and continued efforts, as proposal after proposal came for water parks and so on, our 30A would have gone the way of many of Florida’s coastal towns, jam packed with high-rises and scattered theme parks.

Their efforts did not just fight back ambitious developers but laid the groundwork for what we now enjoy. Instead of providing an asphalt playground, our community now offers—in addition to the beaches—the great outdoors with miles of walking, biking, and hiking trails along with bay and river kayaking and canoeing. New urbanist residential developments such as Seaside, WaterColor, WaterSound, and Rosemary Beach—attracted by the preserved natural beauty in the area—made conscious decisions towards health, fitness, and reducing pollution. This created mixed-use neighborhoods, drawing residents who wanted to walk and bicycle rather than drive. Attracted by a new type of citizen, Transcendental Meditation and many varieties of yoga and fitness schools—along with spas offering herbal medicine, Ayurveda and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine)—sprouted up and flourished all along 30A.

 

vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food

As I look back over the many years since 1970 when I first began coming here, I realize that there are so many heroes, both sung and unsung, that no one person or group can be singled out. Rather, it has been a shared vision that runs the gamut of time. It is almost as though this vision, which was so hard fought and is still being fought—to preserve nature in this area—has a life of its own. Like a drumbeat, it appears to attract people who can hear it.

But there is one haven that deserves credit for providing a refuge for this vision and keeping the beat alive, between all the comings and goings of the constantly changing players in our beach community. This is one place on which we have always been able to count to find answers to anything and everything green happening in our area. It’s the place where people have gravitated to meet, exchange ideas, and talk. It has provided direction to us countless times in our search for local organic food producers, green architects, massage and alternative medicine, and even local doctors practicing preventive medicine. It is called For the Health of It, Ed and Rachel’s health food store.

vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food

For the Health of It has been serving our area for more than fifteen years, almost making it a historical landmark as one of the oldest businesses along 30A. It was the first place between Pensacola and Tallahassee to offer organic groceries. While other neighboring health food stores in Panama City and Destin have fallen by the wayside, For the Health of It continues to grow and thrive. This is a tribute not only to the collective consciousness of our community but also a tribute to Ed and Rachel. vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food

 

I first met Rachel in 1972 when she was a little over a year old. I was going to see The Godfather with my mother, and we needed a babysitter for our oldest son who was also just over a year old. We were told that Rachel’s mother babysat. They lived on a little farm along US Highway 98 with chickens, pigs, cows, and so on. Recently, as I sat with the beautiful and charming adult version of Rachel and asked about her store, she told me that she came from a long line of farmers and is the eighth generation on both sides of her family from this area. Her ancestors moved here from the Northeast to farm the land. But farming here was rugged and because of this, they learned a healthy respect for the earth. They had to take care of it to survive, rotating their crops because they didn’t have the money to buy pesticides, and hunting only so many deer per season or there would be no deer left for the next year. They never had the luxury of using too much.

 

Rachel proudly describes herself as the third generation of her family that has had a grocery store in the area. “As a third-generation local store owner, it’s in my soul—my roots—to serve this community and its population.” She went on to say that she never envisioned herself as having a store, but it all just happened. She met Ed in Tallahassee while he was at Florida State University and she was in massage school. Ed was from Destin, and his family moved here from Chicago when he was young. His dad opened a moped shop in Fort Walton. Once Ed was out of school, they moved to Black Mountain, North Carolina, where he took a job as an athletic director and director of the community center. While in North Carolina, they were introduced to eating organic food and healthy food options.

After three and a half years, the Gulf was calling. They loved the mountains, but they needed the water. Upon arriving home and finding there was no organic produce to be found, Ed decided they should open a health food store and massage therapy practice. He wrote up a business plan and took it to five different banks. Finally, at First American (now BankTrust), they found an ally in what they describe as a reformed-hippie-turned-bank president who was sufficiently impressed by what he heard and gave them a line of credit for twenty-four thousand dollars. With their families pitching in to build countertops and shelves, on April 8, 1995, For the Health of It opened. Ed and Rachel were twenty-four- and twenty-two-years-old, respectively. Three years later, because of continued growth—and having shrewdly gotten first right of refusal if the building went up for sale—they bought the building.

vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food  

Looking back, Rachel says that everyone thought they were “stone-cold crazy” to open a health food store back in 1995. But she and Ed always knew that the customers for their store were there. They knew they were filling a need; since then, they have been able to grow and expand every year. With Hurricane Opal hitting hard in the fall, followed by a difficult winter, they realized that if they could make it through that, they could make it through anything.

Rachel says she has always been focused on food. Laughing, she says her need to feed the county goes way back. As a nurturer, she feels passionate that the more people connect with their food, the better off everybody will be because food is what sustains us. People, she believes, must be made aware of what they put in and on their bodies, from their food to their water to their body care. Food should be healing, for it connects us all—it is what makes us. If we don’t put good fuel in our bodies, everything we do goes awry: we don’t think clearly, we don’t act properly. In addition, we must teach our kids proper nutrition.

vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food  

But she admits that providing good food is a lot of work. Everything expires and must be rotated. She and Ed have to be constantly conscious of the buying and stay on top of it. Their main focus is carrying organic, but not everything comes organic. They are picky about the farms they work with because some say their produce is organic, but when Ed and Rachel look into it, the farms may be using products such as Miracle-Gro, etc. For the Health of It offers only certified organic, including the beef they sell.

vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food  

Rachel explains that health food shoppers are very particular about brands and types of food, and whether these products are processed, and so on. Increasingly, people are diagnosed with allergies that require very specific ingredients in their diets and avoidance of others. Customers often don’t know where to start looking. Some come and spend hours in the aisles. Every level of the green movement comes through their store, from people asking about solar power to suggestions for the best doctors for allergies. They see people from all walks of life, and they’ve always tried to keep true to their original code, which was providing excellent customer service that sustains the community.

vie magazine going to the beach for the health of it local organic food  

Rachel explains that health food shoppers are very particular about brands and types of food, and whether these products are processed, and so on. Increasingly, people are diagnosed with allergies that require very specific ingredients in their diets and avoidance of others. Customers often don’t know where to start looking. Some come and spend hours in the aisles. Every level of the green movement comes through their store, from people asking about solar power to suggestions for the best doctors for allergies. They see people from all walks of life, and they’ve always tried to keep true to their original code, which was providing excellent customer service that sustains the community.

Our environment appears to be of paramount concern. Rachel describes our area as “a jewel on this earth” that needs protecting. She is committed to helping people realize that our natural resources are limited; to keep our community environmentally healthy, we must keep these resources intact. She feels hopeful that we can be an example for other areas by keeping our abundant natural beauty intact in the forests, beaches, and springs. Ed is quick to point out that every solution begins with each of us as individuals. He says it all starts with us and ends with us—whether it be choosing less electricity or gas; to walk, bike, or carpool; to turn down our air conditioning and heat; to shop locally and put money back into the community; to let our errands add up before traveling to town; to recycle—and more. He turns to me: “Do you remember what our county chose to have put on its seal—‘preservation and conservation.’ So, let’s follow it. Rachel and I are honored to serve our community, helping to make it healthier by getting the right information out so that people can make good choices.”

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