Ocean City vacationers and day-trippers with an appetite for organic produce won't go hungry this summer.
O. C. Organics, a tiny shop on U.S. 50 in West Ocean City, is stocked with an array of fresh organic items, such as tomatoes, apples and potatoes; frozen foods, including chicken, emu and bison; and staples, like breads, spices and pasta.
The store, which opened in November, is the healthful dream of Chris Ware, 37, who lives in Berlin. Ware started the organic foods co-op after she had a difficult time finding organic produce she liked on the Shore.
"A co-op gives you better buying power and allows you to keep a good variety," she said. "We have a good enough group that it enables us to buy a couple cases of a variety of different things."
On a recent Saturday, customers arriving to collect their orders, as well as drop-ins, chatted and browsed through the assortment of foods and personal products.
Cher Elliott-Carr, a former employee and a regular visitor, said a fear of pesticides brought her to the co-op.
"I feel better eating organic," she said. "I love food anyhow, but now I enjoy food. The taste is so much better."
Eating organic is a growing trend in America, said Lisa McCue, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Grocery Manufacturers of America.
"Retailers are looking for anything organic because it's a growing segment of the population looking for not necessarily organic foods but natural foods," she said. "Natural foods are no longer being associated with hippies or funky culture. It's becoming really mainstream."
McCue described organic foods as foods that are free from pesticcides while natural foods are considered to be less chemically altered.
In 1980, Americans spent $1.9 billion on natural foods, including organics. In 1998, that amount mushroomed to $14.8 billion.
Mainstream grocery stores also are offering more organic foods, she said. On the Eastern Shore, Giant Foods in Salisbury and Super Fresh in West Ocean City stock organic produce as do some of the area's other markets and health-food stores.
"Organics are another choice for some people," McCue said. "A lot of people do it for health reasons. Other people eat organic for environmental concerns."
At O. C. Organics, located at 12607 Ocean Gateway, which is west of White Marlin Mall, shoppers also will find products like organic hair coloring, made with walnut and rhubarb extracts and citrus ingredients, in addition to cuts of meat from animals raised on organic feed and a variety of milk, from soy to rice.
From the outside, the store looks like a miniature house, complete with a cozy front porch, bench and a scarecrow. By the end of the year, Ware hopes to open a larger store, where customers will be able to buy not only organic produce, but also sandwiches, finger foods and salads to go.