Meet Rick Hood

About the photo above:

Our owner, Rick Hood, with his wife, Molly, and Marion Nestle at the Chautauqua Institute. The theme was “​​At the Table: Our Changing Relationship w/ Food” and was keynoted by Marion Nestle herself. The Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University Steinhardt​ and author of 8 books including “Food Politics”​ touched on the dynamic way people approach their plates. ​“To me, the biggest change is the shift from the personal to the political — from only caring about food from the standpoint of what to have for dinner to a food movement focused on producing and consuming foods in ways that are healthier for people, fairer to everyone involved in the food system and more environmentally sustainable,” Nestle said.​ Perhaps the most notable quote from the experience: “Government policy does not link agricultural policy to health policy. ​So w​hat to do?​ ​Keep building on the local food movement’s successes.”

Q&A:

What is Ellwood’s mission?

Our mission is “aspiring to feed the heart and soul of our community through a commitment to local and organic foods.” This statement takes action through our stewards, suppliers, neighbors, friends and family around social and environmental consciousness and compassion for animals and community. We grow community by investing in it.

What does it mean to you?  

It means that we wish to create a personal connection with our customers.  That may sound crazy for a grocery store but it works for us – we have customers that are definitely part of the Ellwood’s family.  This kind of connection can only happen when you have a work environment where people are happy and enjoy their work.  Most businesses are based on speed, scale and lowest cost, ours is a low tech/high feel one that gives rise to uniqueness, quality, inventiveness and relatedness.  We strive to hire stewards that value community, appreciate the advantages of buying local and are interested in learning more about food.  We attract these great individuals by providing a company that has practices that reflect what they believe.   In order to continue to honor and strengthen our culture, we encourage a strong sense of community within the store by promoting teamwork, education and continued personal growth – we do it together.  The most common answer to “what is your favorite thing about working at Ellwood’s” is “my coworkers”.

Why do you believe that you are a “steward” and call your employees “stewards?”

Steward (n.): a person who has a passion and cares for the future.  We hire stewards that are conscious of the Earth, its resources, and the beings populating it. They are encouraged to be active in the community and lead by example.

Why is local food better?

Local food is better because it is grown closer to your backdoor.  This is good for several reasons:

  1. It is fresher and often times more nutritious.
  2. It supports our small food economy and puts money back into our community.
  3. We are friends and neighbors with our local suppliers and those relationships are important.
  4. Taste
  5. More transparent and trustworthy

What is your definition of Community?

Community results from the love and caring for all those that participate in our business including our family, neighbors and the city of Richmond as a whole. Even other independent grocers! It’s about getting out of yourself and doing what’s best for your fellow human being. Connecting and caring for the Earth including its’ wildlife, climate and plants. This is a precious and fragile world that we’ve been so fortunate to be born into. We want to preserve it for the next generation.

Tell us about your standards?

Hippocrates said, “Food is thy medicine” and we believe that. We have the highest standards in our industry especially around “local” (We define local as 100 miles in radius, as the crow flies) and the ingredients in our produce, prepared food, and bulk. We are active in removing GMO products from our store and do not have products that market to children w/ major cartoon characters.

What do you see in Ellwood’s future?

I see creating deeper and deeper local relationships with all of which we interact. Constant education about local food choices is meaningful for our stewards and therefore our customers. We would like to slowly grow stores in our local area, which is within 100 miles of our store where we can participate in redevelopment by creating more community and connection w/ local economy. We value the local food movement and want to be as meaningful to that shared conversation as possible.

How would you describe your relationship to food?

It’s a great deal of fun to learn about heritage and heirloom varieties of local vegetables and fruits that are often better tasting and certainly healthier. I enjoy sharing delicious tasting food that surprises and delights friends and family. It’s such a positive way to slow down and bring people closer together. It’s these times that I feel especially fulfilled and appreciated in our mission. Our chefs are creating a whole cuisine around local and healthy. Especially vegetarian/vegan. With outstanding taste Ellwood’s aspires to be at the forefront of the evolving Richmond regional food cuisine.

What is Ellwood’s store experience?

People tell us that we have a warm community gathering spot that feels egalitarian and encourages cultural diversity. It’s that 3rd place after work and home described by Ray Oldenburg in “The Great Good Place.” People love our stewards and we love them too! We value simplicity, honesty w/ a sunny staightforwardness. We’ve built the store in a sustainable, enviro-friendly manner that also reflects the history and art scene of Richmond. If our customers continue to describe us as friendly, comfortable and unique, we will have succeeded.

Lastly I am humbled by the degree of details in this business and there still much I have to learn. I’m lucky to have this opportunity to lean into a values centered life and help propel the change I want to see.


Founder of Real Local RVA

Real Local RVA is a grassroots group of independent, small grocery stores, restaurants, farmer’s markets, farmers, growers and supporters dedicated to growing the local food scene in Richmond and the surrounding area. The purpose of the group is to organize all participants for purposes of economic and business development.

Mission: To educate, support and raise awareness of the local food movement and choices in the Greater Richmond area.

History

The history behind Real Local RVA is rooted in Richmond, VA with the effort to grow the local food movement. Rick Hood, Owner of Ellwood Thompson’s, started the group as an informal round table in the beginning of 2014, better known then as the Local Food Group. Other early members included Bill Cox of Casslemonte Farm, Sally Schwitters of Tricycle Gardens, John Haddad of Slow Food RVA, Hunter Hobcroft of Stock Provisions, James Wallace of Virginia Community Capital, Anne Darby of Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, Sidney Gunst of Innsbrook Associates, LLC, Barb Upchurch of The Apple Cart and Erin Wright of Little House Green Grocery. A critical aspect was the participation and moderation of the group by Dale Raney and Lou O’Boyle.

Back then the vision was to create a network of informed, passionate, creative farmers, farmer’s markets and nonprofits that work together within the community to increase awareness and knowledge of locally grown food. Networking was the emphasis. As a formed group, the Local Food Group became a participant group with the Richmond Food Collaborative. Eventually it was realized that the Local Food Group was to be most effective by focusing on for profit business.

One of the values brought up from the beginning is that it’s better to collaborate than to compete. A critical turning point happened in 2015 when Michelle Williams and Donnie Caffery join in. Michelle has been able to recruit Southbound and other restaurants to join and she brings a depth of marketing experience. Donnie has been able to help recruit Libbie Market and other grocers and he provides organizational leadership and technology experience. A unique aspect was the enthusiastic collaboration between grocers and restaurateurs; a mentality that was not common place in years past.

The group morphed into advocating for small farms and independent businesses to have a larger economic impact in Richmond, Virginia. Marketing, events and networking based on “local” values have become the main focus purpose of the group. More and more faces began to show at the table with varying opinions of the local food scene. It was clear, there was a need for a real definition of local, a vehicle in which to promote it and a group to support it. Hence the name Real Local RVA was adopted.