Ed. — From the Sunday, Feb. 14, print edition.
BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
VIRGINIA BEACH — Jim and Genny Jacobs always had a hankering for the farm life, so the time had come to pursue their dream when they bought their Sandbridge Road property.
Over the years, their small organic farm evolved into a retail operation that grew until it eventually consumed all of their time, forcing them to abandon farming. They turned all of their attention to their store, The Organic Food Depot, which today offers both online and in-person shopping in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
“It started with a concept for an online store,” Genny Jacobs said. “We are a small, independent grocery store.”
She added that customers have the option of ordering from online catalogs if they’re looking for an item that isn’t available in the store. Inventory either in the store or through a distributor is vast. Goods include produce, dried goods, snacks, vitamins, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free products, as well as personal care items such as shampoos and soaps.
Free membership, which includes a discount, is available, and members can buy items online and pick up in the stores. Retail locations at 4301 Commuter Drive near Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach and 1912 Granby Street in Norfolk also are open for walk-in customers, Genny Jacobs said.
Genny Jacobs said her interest in small food markets really began when she was a child growing up in Akron, Ohio, where her family gardened and bought eggs and produce from local growers. Jim Jacobs, a computer programmer and former elementary school teacher, grew up in Chicago, but he spent summers on his family’s Christmas tree farm in Wisconsin where he developed a taste for rural life.
“That was a good experience for a city boy,” Jim Jacobs said.
When the couple married, their dreams of the rural life led them to Minnesota, where they tried their hand at farming. They found the Minnesota climate to be inhospitable, however.
“Minnesota was too cold,” said Genny Jacobs, and the couple fell in love with Virginia Beach when they visited here in the 1960s. So, Jim Jacobs found a teaching job at Creeds Elementary School.
The family moved to a 2.5-acre farmette on Sandbridge Road. Over the years, they and their three children grew organic vegetables, and expanded their original operation to five acres. They focused on red peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and Asian pears, and marketed largely to area restaurants.
In the early 2000s, a couple of things happened that shifted the focus away from farming and toward retail.
First, their daughter-in-law, Lynn Jacobs, started a buying club that allowed members to buy bulk items collectively and split the items with each other. It proved to be time-consuming, and Genny Jacobs eventually agreed to take over from her. Jim Jacobs wrote a software program for her that facilitated the ordering process.
Then, a close friend died from cancer when he was in his 50s, Genny Jacobs said. Because he had a very healthy lifestyle, his death prompted her to wonder about environmental toxins that might have triggered his illness. She decided that she wanted to make organic foods more affordable and available, so the couple opened at the Virginia Beach location in 2003, followed by the Norfolk store in 2006.
Over the years, The Organic Food Depot acquired a dedicated customer base at both the online and brick-and-mortar stores.
“I love the concept of the store,” Virginia Beach resident Mary Wyld said. “You can go purchase there or you can buy online at very good prices. I shop from the online catalogs, but I also go in there because I like to browse.”
“I can always find the items that our family likes,” said Cynthia Smith, a Norfolk resident who shops at the location there and particularly likes the leafy vegetables, fruits and fresh ginger. “Their inventory for fruits and vegetables is always reliable.”
More information about The Organic Depot is available at organicfooddepot.com.
© 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC