There’s a good-ol’, down-home feeling you get when talking to Lynn Powers. Walk through the doors of his restaurant in the Commons of Thornbury just outside of town, and it’s like you’ve entered his home. He greets the customers at Shoo Mama’s Farm Fresh Café and asks about the family and friends of his regulars. He likes to share stories about his family in return, and is always excited for the chance to tell you about his menu.
This sort of menu is a rarity these days – all unprocessed, unrefined, whole foods. Shoo Mama’s does their absolute best to source their ingredients locally and place a huge emphasis on finding organic and chemical-free products to serve their customers. We caught up with Lynn to chat about the importance of going green.
Name: Lynn Powers.
Hometown: Wilmington, Delaware.
Can you explain all the hype around being organic? Basically, the organic stuff is important because we don’t know everything that is going in to the food we eat, and sometimes when we find out what’s going in it turns out to be bad, like DDT. When you’re looking at meat, it is about what they’re being fed. Cows are being fed genetically modified organisms that up their growth and productivity, but that can cause stomach infections. First of all, that’s cruel, and, secondly, we don’t know what the effects are on us. That’s before we even start talking about all the steroids and hormones that these animals are on.
Going organic is all about getting back to the way our great-grandparents used to eat. Good, simple food.
What is more important: using organic, or sourcing local? Ideally we would like to be using products that are both organic and local, but I think organic is probably more important. But, having said that, when you can get local, as long as you know everything that is going in, and especially if it is at least chemical-free, then you get better produce.
What are the benefits of local and organic products? When you get local produce, the farmers have allowed the plant to ripen on the vine, so it gets the most flavor and nutritional value possible. What you’re getting in the grocery store has usually been picked before it ripens, then is allowed to ripen on the trucks and in the market.
With organic, the issue is that a few years down the road we might find out what all these preservatives and additives are doing to us. Just 15, 20, 30 years ago there were far fewer cases of food allergies – at least reported cases of food allergies – than there are today. When you consider that much of what we’re eating is genetically modified, it’s not that surprising that there are so many people who have gluten allergies.
Is it important to you on a personal level? Buying locally keeps your community strong by helping local businesses generate more revenue and better product. Besides simply being better, it helps your community and your neighbors. Plus, we have some great farms and farmers in the area, who produce superior products.
You also have to remember that sourcing locally minimizes our impact on the environment by cutting out shipping. My wife and I both got our undergraduate degrees in Environmental Science, so we like to be socially and environmentally responsible. We’re crunchy like that.
Have you spent a lot of time on or around farms? My uncles are all farmers in Arkansas, and my grandparents had a functioning farm, with crops, cows, horses, pigs, plus a garden just for the family. I spent much of the summer down there as a young kid. My parents were teachers in Milton, DE and during the summer we would all head down to Arkansas and spent our time working on the farm and in the fields.
As I got a little older, like in junior high and high school, I started working on farms in Delaware during the summer picking peppers and zucchini and all the produce that they grew there.
Did working on the farms teach you anything you apply to the business today? Absolutely. It was invaluable. Being able to identify the best products is obviously important, but much of it is that my best memories are of working hard in the field all day, then coming in after and having everyone in the kitchen getting together a meal that we would all share that we had made ourselves. One of life’s greatest pleasures is sharing good food with the people you love.
Seems like the natural course for you would have been to become a farmer. How did you get into restaurants? Well, we lived near the beach in Delaware, so during the summer there were a lot of restaurants hiring, and it was a great way to make good money. I worked in restaurants all through college.
After college I worked for the Department of Natural Resources in Delaware, sampling water out in the fields. I liked being out there, but it was a government job, so there was this constant frustration for me that things seemed to be moving so slowly, and I couldn’t take that. Plus, then I had to be behind a desk.
So is everything at your restaurant healthy? No. We are not a health food store, we are a restaurant with healthy options. We serve all whole foods, but they’re not necessarily all healthy. Still, we can pronounce the name of everything that goes into our food and know every ingredient. Something like a meatball panini or our totchos (tater tots dressed up like nachos). They’re not really healthy as a whole, but they’re made with healthy ingredients.
You grew up in Delaware, spent summers in Arkansas and ended up opening a business in West Chester. How did that happen? We were looking along the 202 corridor, basically looking at properties from Wilmington to West Chester, and when this place became available we were excited. I knew how to run a restaurant, but knew nothing about setting one up, and this place had already been a restaurant and came with all the equipment.
Then, when we got to know the community, met some of the local farmers, some of the people here, we knew this was exactly the spot we were looking for.