This article is part of the 19th annual women in business series by Mountain Xpress. See the full story here.
Janet and Stella: Well and good
Healthy Harvest Natural Foods’ mission: “To promote wellness and the celebration of life, spirit, nature and the good that exists.”
In the mid-’90s, Janet Godwin opened her first storefront in Black Mountain in a bid to share her knowledge of natural wellness. In 2004, Healthy Harvest relocated to Brevard, where she and daughter Stella worked side by side for about six years. Together they built a community hub for people seeking natural food products and, perhaps more importantly, the knowledge and support to fuel a healthy lifestyle.
“I was involved from birth,” Stella says with a laugh, remembering how Janet gradually transferred her encyclopedic knowledge of native herbs during childhood walks in the woods. That “constant initiation into the old ways,” Stella maintains, reflected her mother’s desire for her daughter to live very close to nature.
But continuous exposure to the tenets of intentional, healthful living profoundly affected Stella’s whole reality in ways she didn’t fully realize until she eventually ventured into a world where holistic wellness wasn’t always front and center. “I caught the healer vibe,” says Stella. “I really got that what we were doing — which I just thought was the natural way of life — was actually something that other people considered an art.” For Stella, on the other hand, that way of being had become a non-negotiable staple of her life.
After studying art therapy and massage and working at several chain health food stores, Stella returned to Healthy Harvest with a renewed sense of belonging. “Had I not gone out into the other places, I wouldn’t have had the same appreciation for what we did,” she explains. The family aspect made it “a home for us and a home for others.”
Stella’s worldly experience, particularly in store management, also brought additional skills to the family enterprise. But Stella stresses that her business savvy largely resulted from her mother’s quickly ushering her along the learning curve. “My mom was pretty hard-core,” she recalls. “She wanted things done right. There really wasn’t room for mistakes.”
Janet passed away shortly after Healthy Harvest moved to its current Brevard location. The simultaneous loss of mother, teacher and business partner gave Stella a new sense of determination to preserve Janet’s legacy of promoting community wellness.
“It’s a magical little place,” she says about the new store. Smiles appear and eyes light up when customers enter the cozy space. Brimming with bulk foods and other healthy goods, and flooded with natural light that flows in through the ceiling-high windows, the store itself is meant to facilitate wellness, Stella explains.
And though she doesn’t replicate her mother’s every move (choosing, for example, to advertise and hold larger community events), Janet’s core lessons are still very much in evidence at Healthy Harvest. “I learned how to be a businesswoman from her — not just a businessperson,” Stella emphasizes.
When male vendors call her “honey,” for example, or attribute her choosing not to carry their product to “female nervousness” rather than a straightforward business decision, Stella is gracefully assertive. And in every interaction with her customers — her second family — she practices her mother’s focused mindfulness, in which personal issues take the back burner (or no burner at all).
So when Stella considers the bigger picture, looking at Western North Carolina’s unique opportunities for health, wellness and happiness, she says: “It’s phenomenal; it’s beautiful. We’re going to be OK.”