Growing naturally: Amherst health food shop expands

AMHERST – Chick Wetherbee came home one day from his job at BAE, then known as Sanders Corp,, unhappy and frustrated.

“Why not quit and work in the store?” said his wife, Marie Fortier, who had started a small natural foods store in the basement of a house on Elm Street, and then moved it into its own building near what is now the old Milford police station.

The pay cut was huge, but Wetherbee took the leap. After Fortier started her own antiques shop on Main Street in Wilton, he took over Earthward Natural Foods.

“It was the best thing I ever did,” Wetherbee says now.

That was more than three decades ago. Earthward has been in Amherst, at 42 Route 101A, for 20 years, and this month expanded into space vacated when Bedford Fields took over the next door garden center from Ponemah Farms.

The store is now about 3,600 square feet, allowing Wetherbee to stock more merchandise, including more gluten-free products, house-cleaning products and fresh fruits and vegetables, The shop also has meat from local farms, loose herbs and spices, homeopathic supplements, vitamins and specialty dairy items.

Another big change this year is in Earthward’s management. Wetherbee’s son, Matthew, has been working here for about 18 months and is taking over day-to-day oversight.

Earthward also has books on physical and spiritual well-being and about 15 years ago, a customer asked Wetherbee if he had a book called “The Tracker,” by Tom Brown Jr. Every time she came in, she’d ask about the book, and eventually Wetherbee bought it and put it on his shelf.

The next time the woman came in she said, “I don’t want it. I want you to read it.”

And so he did. The book led to another life change and inspired Wetherbee to attend Brown’s tracking and wilderness survival school in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

For years, he has been teaching survival courses. This summer he will teach two three-day classes called “Can You Survive It” and “Can You Survive It Plus” at Beaver Brook Association in Hollis.

Wetherbee, a Milford native and younger brother of writer and television host Fritz Wetherbee, said the store is changing, but they will always want to know their individual customers and what they like to buy.