Cliff's Country Market has stood on Blaine just west of downtown Caldwell for 16 years. Owner Cliff Metcalf, who was raised on a farm near Parma, has been in the produce business for most of his life. Until a year ago he didn't give much thought to offering GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) products, then he watched the documentary, Food Inc, and as he walked out he said to his wife, "if this is true [the argument against GMOs] then I can't do it anymore." He investigated the issues surrounding GMOs. After his research he was convinced that "unlabeled genetically modified food is wrong." Today his grocery's shelves are lined with products labeled non-GMO (and many are gluten free as well).
Taking a stand did not please all his customers. Those who were there for cheaper prices stopped shopping; farmers who grow GMOs followed suit. What surprised Metcalf, though, is how many new customers now support his stand. He has regained – albeit from new people – the lost revenue.
GMOs bother Metcalf because "these foods haven't been tested enough" to determine whether ingesting them can cause health problems such as increases in diseases (reputedly autism and allergies). He worries that the companies who distribute engineered seeds don't want studies that may show how harmful GMOs may be. He himself is trying to eat "mostly non-GMO. . ." he says, "I look at genetically modified as creating new species." Concerned that big seed companies are taking over the supply and altering traditional businesses in other parts of the world, Metcalf points to the cotton industry in India. Yet he recognizes that eating all non-GMO is easier said than done, he eats out several times a week and can't be certain of the provenance of the food. It needs to be stated that the debate about GMOs is far from black and white. Still, Metcalf maintains that organic, unmodified produce is better nutritionally – and since certified organic products can not legally contain GMOs, choosing organic food is the only way a consumer can know a product is GMO-free – unless someone like Metcalf labels them for you. Metcalf also worries about the additional herbicides that companies like Monsanto claim do not stay in the food supply. He argues that tests in Europe show otherwise. And he says that the environmental concerns "are every bit as bad as the health concerns. You don't farm in a vacuum."
Cliff's County Market itself testifies to Cliff's concerns. There are two bakeries in store (one is gluten free). "One of the first things I did was get rid of the canola oil." His logo and motto "specializing in food you can trust" graces labels of flour, tortillas, grain; bought in bulk, organic, non-GMO spices are bottled at the market. Gluten free pastas, cereals and even tortilla chips share Cliff's labels. To serve his Hispanic clientele, he was able to source non-GMO tortilla chips. But he recognizes the economic realities of his evolution, "to get something that is not genetically modified, my customers have to pay twice as much."
Cliff's buys products in bulk and creates his own gluten free non-GMO product line. To be square with his customers, green labels signify organic and yellow non-organic. If trail mix has some chocolate pieces, which may be modified, the label says so. He has worked with GMO-free Idaho, a non-GMO advocacy group, who helped out with his bread. This past summer he actually sold more organic peaches than non-organic, despite the increased cost. Eggs sourced from free-range chickens, raw milk and local grass fed beef – all are on hand at Cliff's.
Asked why he's doing it, he simply says, "I am 70 years old, so I'm not doing this for myself. I am doing this for the generation that is coming up now that didn't know a world without genetically modified and highly processed food."