When retired school teacher Sandy Gooch grew ill in the 1970s, she knew the only way to get better was to heal her body with fresh, wholesome food. The problem: She was unable to easily find stores selling chemical-free, organic products.

“There were tiny little health-food stores here and there, and tiny little farms,” recounts Gooch in an interview with Organic Connections. “So I literally drove from Santa Barbara to San Diego to find everything that I thought would be good and healthy, and that took a long time. It was an arduous job… Long story short, I took my teacher retirement money and savings and opened up the first Mrs. Gooch’s [health-food store] in January of 1977.”

Gooch’s stores helped spur a zeal for natural living, and paved the way for natural products stores such as Whole Foods Market. Mrs. Gooch stores were especially unique because they offered consumer education initiatives. “There were informative signs, articles, brochures, newsletters, and knowledgeable employees who were always trained. There were demos that were going on all over the place,” remembers Gooch.

Plus, people shopping at Gooch’s groceries could count on buying products made with strict standards: items containing artificial colors, flavors, additives, preservatives, refined flour or white sugar were not available.

Later on, Gooch followed a strict non-GMO policy—a presentiment of current anxieties over GMOs. Clearly, Gooch was ahead of her time.

Read more in Organic Connections.