Eating at Earthmother Organic is enough to make you turn green.
Whether you are vegan or a carnivore, if you just want to pop in and sample a delicious raw chocolate treat or if you fancy finding out what pea protein powder is, Earthmother Organic is for you.
It is one of the only fully organic retailers in South Africa with a product range of over 900 items – from baby products to household cleaners and everything in between. In Durban, Earthmother Organic has been something or a pioneer in the organic space and one of the very first to make organic products directly available to the Durban public by having an outlet.
For sisters and business partners Doris and Eva Muller, it has been a long journey centred on the “Good Food, Great Life approach”.
The Mullers owe their clean living practices to their mother who was very health orientated as well as to their father who knew all about the “good life”. So, the “Good Food, Great Life” approach to their business developed roots early on, says Eva Muller.
The sisters began selling organic produce out of the back of their car 13 years ago, first at the Shongweni market and then at others across Durban.
“In the beginning, ‘what’s organic?’ was a question that was asked relentlessly. We hardly get that now. But even though information is available and organic is even trendy, this is still not quite enough,” she says, referring to the fact that people often only respond to health warnings and begin to eat well when they become ill.
A South African Organic Market Study commissioned by EPOPA (Export Promotion of Organic Products from Africa) in 2005, put the value of the South African organic market at R100 million across all categories of produce. Even then, the study points to the rapid growth of this agricultural sector over the last 15 years, starting at a point when ‘organic’ was a fringe term, seen by mainstream sceptics to be the domain of ‘green bunny-huggers’.
At the outset, the study notes, market outlets being ‘few and far between’. Since then, supermarkets and increased consumer education about the benefits of organic produce have overcome much controversy and driven demand for these products to the point where organic cosmetics (including local Durban brands such as Esse and Glucki), organic textiles, organic coffee, wine and more have popped up.
In 2005, the Mullers opened their first shop in Hillcrest’s Heritage Market. However, because the Hillcrest market was not yet ready for organic products, it was soon relocated to Davenport Road in Durban where things “really took off.” Five years ago, Earthmother Organic moved to an old Victorian House in Bulwer Road and a quaint café was added at the back.
Although fresh produce remains Earthmother Organics’ best seller, the sheer seasonality of vegetables and fruit together with growing demand for organic dry foodstuffs, cosmetics and cleaning agents saw the partners begin to add a whole range of products a few years ago. They now stock organic food supplements. Their policy is to support local suppliers first and, when certain products such as goji berries and coconut oil are not available in South Africa, to support global brands that support free trade principles as much as possible.
The sisters’ progressive co-op shop relocated again towards the end of last year, opening in Windemere Road – or alternatively Lillian Ngoyi Road – in November. The reason for the shift was that, unfortunately, it had fallen victim to a number of break-ins and armed robberies.
Other than a little additional peace of mind, nothing much has changed.
Earthmother sources as much local fresh produce as possible from local producers, homestead farmers, certified farmers and the sisters’ own farm. Organic produce is available on Fridays at something of a mini market which feels like a lovely escape to the country, in the midst of the urban hubbub.
(The organic market runs from 10:30am to 2:00pm and orders for veg boxes can be placed for those who aren’t able to make it to the market during these times.)
Earthmother also boasts a delightful café in a tranquil garden setting. The Garden Café offers a menu based on how we live at home: simplicity, delicious flavours and healthy living principles. All meals are prepared from scratch, accommodating specific dietary requirements,” says Eva.
The central idea is that eating healthy meals should never come at the expense of taste and enjoyment and the cheesecake, vegan wraps and tasty sandwiches bear this out.
The menu changes regularly both in response to the seasonality of fresh organic produce and the sheet creativity of the owners.
“We believe that a change is as good as a holiday and so our staff have free creative reign. We often have specials that originate from them,” she adds.
Just as tantalising to the taste buds is Earthmother’s deli which stocks a range of pestos, cheeses, free-range eggs, salads, raw chocolate tarts, truffles, fudge, biscotti, takeaway sandwiches and more.
Sharing Earthmother’s new retail space are two exciting spots – Turquoise, which stocks original clothing and handcrafted accessories and gift ideas and the Chiropractic/massage room, run by masseuse and Chiropractor Dr Mike Bar Gil who specialises in massage and alternative therapies to promote healing on all levels.
Tracey Taylor, owner of Turquoise Boutique and Décor, initially began at Earthmother in Glenwood.
A fashion designer by trade, Taylor has followed her heart and put her vision into the Durban clothing market.
“We’ve really tapped into the Durban culture. We weren’t sure if it would continue past the six month mark but clothes just kept selling and selling. I handpick sari material, each with its own unique texture and design. The range is comfortable coastal resort wear with a touch of elegance. It can be dressed up or down. The colours are fun and vibrant and the patterns are flattering to any body type.”
Taylor says the shop has gone from strength to strength and, by using local seamstresses and what’s familiar, she is adding to the local clothing market, helping to generate more home grown products and contribute more to the local economy.
Taylor has built her customer base by adapting clothing to what customers want and has various garments designed based on what people come in and ask for.
She also uses leftover fabric to make unique accessories ranging from pumps to bags and jewellery, while various other jewellery items sourced locally are also for sale in the display cabinets.
Taylor says her long boob-tube dresses are her bestselling items by virtue of the fact that they can be dressed up or down and basically worn anywhere, from the beach to a fancy dinner.
“The attention to detail is amazing. Everything is one off, laid and cut here in Durban. There are a lot of factories that won’t touch this material as it is delicate and very time consuming to work with, so we are quite lucky to have found a factory that will work with this type of material,” she adds
Just across the room from Taylor is chiropractor Dr Mike Bar Gil who has been practicing professionally in Durban for the past seven years.
“I also run a practice in Umhlanga. I was previously situated at another address in Windermere Road, but had to move offices to a better positioned premises. Doris Muller is my patient and offered me space to upgrade my services. When I saw how young and vibrant and contemporary it was with people always coming in and out and relaxing to enjoy coffee or a meal, I immediately fell in love with it,” he explains.
Bar Gil is originally from Israel, but has lived in South Africa for 14 years after studying and training in the country.
He now also trains students in various massage techniques providing certified courses in Swedish, sport, advanced and reflexology massage.