Interview

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Friends of Loving Earth – Deborah Wray

By Loving Earth   |  September 6, 2016 |

What’s it like deciding to start a business? Did the idea come to you all at once? Did you envisage the end goal or just the first step?

Sixteen years ago my journey began, when my son was diagnosed with chronic fatigue at the age of 16. He had allergies to lots of foods & preservatives such as bread improver! The doctor said ’get organic wherever you can’. I went into the supermarket after he was diagnosed & started reading the back labels. I was horrified. The more I learnt about the way food is being grown, processed & stored, to make ‘fresh’ food last longer, the less I bought from those supermarkets. So I started offering my son certified organic food & removed all chemical washing powders & cleaning products from our home. Within 6 months he was well. I was eating the food too & couldn’t believe what a difference it was making to my energy levels, skin, hair, everything, I even lost weight! I realised there is a higher level of living that I would never have discovered if my son hadn’t become unwell. Shopping for this food was difficult & not convenient. I had to shop all over the place so we decided to open a one stop certified organic grocery store where you could buy everything, fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, meat, cleaning products… In 2005 no bank would lend us the money to start an organic grocery store. So I sold my house & used all my savings to build our first store at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast. My partner Gary sold his business. We opened more stores because people were asking for a Wray Organic store in their region. When we opened that first shop I didn’t imagine that in 10 years we would have10 stores.

You’re clearly someone who dreams big; what are your dreams now?

I want this clean food to be available to everyone in Australia. Recently we opened a store in Tamworth, NSW. My big dream is that Australia, as an island, only grows certified organic food & genetically engineered crops are not permitted. Now that would be the lucky country. We would have to close a lot of hospitals. Ha!

How do you find your dreams?

I stay true to my beliefs & never loose contact with my ethical compass.

How do you tune in to your inspiration? How do you stay on track with it?

I often go back to those horror years when my son was unwell. I’m still the label Nazi. We are often offered products to stock in our stores that are supposed to be ‘healthy’ or ‘organic’. We review everything because there are so many products that are in health food shops or on the supermarket shelf that are not healthy at all. I ask myself, as a mother, would I feed this product to my family. If the answer is no, than we don’t stock it, even if in other stores it’s a very big seller! A customer once said to me ‘I figure cause your name is on the building you’re not going to do the wrong thing’. The word ‘Organic’ is as well. ‘Wray Organic’, those 2 words definitely keep me on track!

There are always times when it seems overwhelming, in life and business. What tricks or tools do you use to overcome yours?

Remember to breath, make lists, keep things in perspective. I lost my husband suddenly many years ago, so nothing is as bad as that. Some days I do a Scarlett O’Hara & say ‘tomorrow is another day’. An early start & clear mind, the next day, makes all the difference.

What lasting effect would you like to leave on the world?

Opening stores means certified organic growers & producers have somewhere they can sell their product. Without our stores many of these sustainable farmers & producers would not exist. They are growing & producing food the way it should be grown. Every time someone shops at Wray Organic, or a store like ours, they are supporting a clean environment & a healthy way of life for all. I would like to see stores & cafes like ours everywhere. Where you choose to buy your food can change the world J

What’s your mantra?

‘Let food be thy medicine & medicine be thy food’ Hippocrates

Can you remember clearly a moment of success and what was it?

So many amazing stories from our customers. They share with me the impact eating certified organic food has had on their health. From loosing weight, not feeling bloated anymore to gut issues or reversing cancer. So many positive stories just because they changed to eating clean, nutritious certified organic food.

What do you celebrate with the Wray Organics team? How do you celebrate?

You know we’re not very good at that. Like me, the owners & managers of our stores are all so busy making it happen. We all work long hours, the commitment from everyone is extraordinary. We should stop & give ourselves a pat on the back. Our stores are unique & we should celebrate that. We are all just so driven & genuinely want to make the world a better place.

Who or what keeps you going?

When I visit our farmers. The most amazing, humble people. Their houses usually need a coat of paint. Everything goes into the farm & the food they grow. The first thing they do is bend down & pick up their soil. One farmer once told me ‘it’s the unhealthy plant that the insects attack, it’s all about getting the soil right’. These are everyday Aussies & their families, growing food the way it should be grown. Also all of our children have worked or are working in the business. They are great kids & I’m very proud of them. They all contribute so much & are such a delight to work with. Our customers also keep me going, we do change their lives.

What is it like working with your partner? What are the highs and what are the lows?

I couldn’t do this without him. We are an amazing team & I love working with him. He is a beautiful person, ethical, strong (but also a big softy). He is my sole mate. Nothing is too hard with Gary by my side, between us we can work it out.

What is your favourite way to unwind?

Swimming in the ocean, walking, reading a good book, getting together with my two sisters & having a ‘sister day’, get togethers with our 6 children & 2 grand children & cooking a special meal, hangin’ out with my partner Gary.

What does health mean to you?

We are nothing without our health. Sadly customers often visit our stores for the first time when they are very unwell. I’m a big one for prevention. Certified organic food can prevent illness. I know if my son had been on an organic diet from a baby he would never have become unwell at the age of 16. Yes certified organic food is all about no synthetic pesticides, insecticides, no genetically modified ingredients, no preservatives, but it is so much more than that. Nutrition. This food grows in soils that contain all the minerals we need. Healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy animals = healthy us. Sorry just got on my soapbox again. Food is the secret to health along with pure water & clean air.

What’s your go-to comfort snack when times are tough?

I love a cup of green tea with a little treatie. Often something from our Wray cafes or a piece of Loving Earth chocolate or a Luvju choc chipped Turkish delight.

What is your favourite go-to recipe for a quick healthy meal?

I’m releasing my cookbook in December, which has over 100 of these sorts of meals. A lot of people believe they don’t have time to cook but I think that’s just because the recipes they make are too complicated. When you use certified organic ingredients you don’t need as many ingredients, because there is so much more flavour. You’ve just got to get the combination of flavours right. How about this meal in 15 mins – In a small baking dish place fish pieces with plenty of olive oil, lemon juice & a pinch of unprocessed salt. Cook in a 180 degree oven for 15 mins & serve with a bowl of lettuce mix sprinkled with a bunch of Italian parsley (or coriander). The juices in the baking tray becomes the salad dressing.

You can go to the Loving Earth website here.

 

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Deborah Wray: Living an Organic Life

By Women in Focus   |   Latest Update Mar 13, 2013 12:06 PM  |   Original Commonwealth Bank Article click here

Deborah Wray is the co-founder of Wray Organic Market and Cafe. Her passion to provide affordable real food to as many people as possible has been the key driver behind her business success. She opened her first store on the Gold Coast in 2005 and now has eight stores across Queensland. She shares with us the benefits of living an organic life and the challenges she’s faced entering an industry that’s still very much in its infancy.

How has eating organic food changed your life and the way you feel? I know that it has had a huge impact on your son’s health.

I started down the organic road because my son was unwell. Upon eating the food myself I noticed three main differences other than the fact that the taste was so much better. I ate less, lost weight and had much more energy. People would constantly comment on ‘how well I looked’. When we open one of our stores and customers start eating the certified organic food we provide, these are the comments that we constantly receive. I have come to realise that there is a higher level of living which I may never have discovered if my son hadn’t become unwell. The best news is that due to a pesticide and preservative free diet and the use of chemical free cleaning products my son quickly recovered his health.

Organic products do tend to be considerably more expensive than traditional products, what causes this price difference?

Yes, organic produce will cost more, but there are many good reasons why. What’s on the shelf in a Wray Organic store is what has been picked recently and is actually in season.  So for example with regard to apples, you won’t find last year’s produce selling at a much ‘cheaper’ price. No chemicals means more labour, staffing is one of the biggest costs to organic farms. A certified organic farm can’t spray a whole field with weedicide instead all the work is done manually. Also certified organic farming is less intensive due to rotational farming. A paddock will be left fallow and a cover crop will be planted to add nitrogen to the soil.  This leads to smaller yields per hectare and reduces the frequency of the crop. Organic farming refrains from using chemicals and growth hormones which means produce, both plant and animal, takes longer to produce. We’ve all seen the appalling intensive factory farming for chickens, pigs and cattle, this is not permitted under organic certification. The cost of organic produce most accurately represents the actual cost of farming without reducing costs by mass spraying, pumping the soil with nitrogen and using growth hormones. We are constantly working with farmers to offer affordable organic food.

It sounds like Wray Organic Market and Cafe is one of the only organic grocery store chains that are able to offer a great range of fresh organic produce at affordable prices. Why do you think there aren’t more businesses like your own?

What we are doing is not easy. There are constant challenges in an industry that’s very much in its infancy. We are very passionate about what we are offering so it’s not just ‘a business’ to us. We aim to provide affordable real food to as many people as possible.

 How did you go about opening your first store?

Opening a one-stop organic shop was an idea that evolved from my son being seriously unwell. I realised there must be other people out there looking for clean nutritious food without having to shop at numerous locations. So I sold my beautiful Queenslander in Brisbane, my partner sold his business and we pooled our savings in order to open our first store. We thought about what we would like in an organic store, quality fruit and vegetable, meat, dairy, grocery and bulk all certified organic, also chemical free cleaning products and personal care. The store was designed in order to offer an easy shopping experience and the café developed because we realised that people who are used to eating organic food had nowhere to eat out.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

A lot of people are sitting on the fence, when it comes to eating organic. They know that food without chemical pesticides and preservatives is better for you but are not necessarily doing something about it.  Unfortunately it’s often illness that prompts people to start eating organic. I wish I’d known about the benefits of an organic diet when my son was a baby. It’s very likely that he would not have become so unwell at the age of 16. We constantly encourage people to change their shopping patterns and eat organic because once they do the difference it makes is life changing.

What advice would you give to someone entering the same industry?

Be prepared to work very hard and deal with the challenges of being part of an industry that’s very much in its infancy.

What are your plans for the business going forward and what do you see as your biggest obstacles?

We want organic food to be available to everybody. For this reason we want to open more stores.

What do we see as our biggest obstacle? People will often say they can’t afford to eat organic, but what price is good health? Many believe organic food is just about removing chemicals from your food but it is so much more than that. There have been countless studies to prove that nutrient levels in certified organic produce is so much higher than non organic. The food most of us are eating is not nutrient dense but ‘dead’. So by enjoying an organic diet you get more bang for your buck! No wonder our customers notice they eat less and have more energy.

You can connect with Wray Organic Market and Cafe on Facebook here.

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