We Are Upstate New York with Sunflower Market’s CEO Melissa Misra
Inside+Out Upstate NY recently featured a story on our go-to and favorite organic and specialty market in the Hudson Valley– Sunflower Market. The story touches upon Sunflower then and now, and how the torch has been passed on to the next generation of family owners, Melissa and Paku Misra. Today, we catch up with Melissa as she discusses her commitment to continuing Sunflower’s founding ideals and the organic market’s historical role as an oasis for clean, sustainably sourced food.
Let’s get to know Melissa Misra…
INSIDE+OUT: Sunflower has been in business for since 1978, conceived and launched by your parents. You are now at the helm. What does this mean for you and what is your vision for Sunflower moving forward?
MELISSA MISRA: Bob, my Step-father, founded Sunflower Natural Foods Market back in 1978. It is an honor to be handed the baton! Sunflower Market has long been an oasis for clean, sustainably sourced food, I believe Sunflower Market’s primary role is to support the health needs of our community–but a natural byproduct of our work is that of helping to address the multitude of larger social and economic issues that impact millions of others.
Tell us more about your journey: when did you start working at Sunflower, what did you learn from your parents, and what do you bring to the business?
My first job at Sunflower was back in High School. I worked as a customer sales employee. I also spent some time as a cashier in 2007. One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that input from our employees is invaluable. More times than not an employees’ shared idea has an impact far beyond the original challenge.
What do I bring to the business? Well, I have multiple skills from a degree in human psychology; also studying marketing & advertising. My past work experience varied and I bring to my business, an appreciation for both the smallest of details to the big picture. Also, the necessity of food is universal and is an integral point of all relationships. I bring an unbridled passion for people to the business: My relationships with each employee and shopper at Sunflower Market is dynamic and built upon finding answers and cultivating our shared experiences in a way that fosters us to help others, to pay it forward.
You proudly source local. How do you decide which local farms and vendors you work with?
I personally don’t decide which farms to resource from. The department managers research and review local product and bring in goods they know meet a customers need or desire. The guidelines for local farms can be tricky as many small local farms grow organically and free of chemical pesticides yet don’t have USDA certification as proof. The produce and store manager need to consider many factors, including this one, when wanting to support local farms.
What does Organic and Wellness mean to you?
Organic means a product is grown or is made of ingredients that exclude the use of synthetic fertilizer or pesticides. Most importantly, Organic means no genetically modified organisms in the food or goods.
Wellness is a word that defines efforts made to support and compliment our whole health. Wellness is often pigeon-holed or overused in the area of vitamins, supplements and holistic remedies. Wellness is far-reaching and should include anything that helps improve & support our best health.
What is one question you’re constantly asked or the biggest misconception about your work?
The one question I did hear a lot, was how you did you manage such a great job with the expansion of the Woodstock store? It was a team effort and every employee was needed to make it such a resounding success!
How do you grow your business?
In business, growth isn’t a given. As we have seen during the pandemic, we find we are not in control of the production and distribution of the goods we sell. When faced with this scenario, we did a lot of leg work to find alternative products that would meet the same need or desire. It’s like a good game of chess. We try and keep our perspective fresh and consider all potential challenges. Real growth comes from balancing the need to pay bills, while providing our employees with healthcare, 401k, profit sharing & a dependable income.
How did the last few years of the pandemic impact or change your vision for Sunflower Market?
We only hit the pause buttons on a few initiatives that require socializing in small to large groups. We did take every measure required by law (and then some) to make Sunflower Market a safe and supportive environment for people to work and shop. The pandemic only strengthened my resolve for the need of programs that bring people closer through healthy food & goods.
What is it about the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live + work here?
The people make the Hudson Valley so special to me. I believe that the beauty of the area calls to all with a sense of curiosity, adventure and a need for peace of mind. The Hudson Valley pulls people to it like a magnet. I love living here because I love the outdoors. I grew up in Woodstock in the 70s and was gifted easy access to exploring nature. When I’m not working, I’m hiking or walking in the woods or paddle boarding. I have a need to be in nature, it grounds me and reminds me to have gratitude for all life.
What impact does your business have on your community?
I’d like to think the impact goes far beyond what the eye sees. For decades, we have supported other local businesses and not-for-profits. On a more personal level, I’ve had many conversations with employees and customers thanking me for ‘what’ Sunflower Market does. That ‘what’ is different for everyone and I love that!
What is missing in the area that you wish we had?
I love small bookstores, so another bookstore would be great. A place for children to engage in creative play would be a wonderful addition to Woodstock or the surrounding communities. A Fitness center that provides a variety of ways to stay both physically & mentally fit: weight machines, a room for yoga or Pilates, a climbing wall and a spa would be fabulous!
Who or what inspires you personally?
Kindness, generosity & thoughtfulness. Nature has always inspired me. From the smallest leaf or insect to the tallest tree, highest mountain top. I am in awe of every sunset, change in weather and the seasons.
Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to know?
That I dread public speaking.
What would be your dream local Staycation?
A cabin in the woods, with a small lake or pond to fish or paddle board on.
What is your current state of mind?
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Visit SUNFLOWER MARKET WOODSTOCK
75 Mill Hill Rd, Woodstock, NY
Visit SUNFLOWER MARKET RHINEBECK
24 Garden Street Rhinebeck, NY