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Eating clean: Perham store offers organic foods for those resolving to start a new, improved diet for the New Year

Wayne Isaacson owns A Clean Plate organic grocery store with his wife, Julie. They opened their first store four years ago in Menahga, and opened a second location in Perham earlier this year. They live north of Perham with their 11 children. Marie Johnson/FOCUS1 / 2
Eating foods free of pesticide residues and antibiotics has helped the Isaacson family to feel stronger and more energetic in recent years. Marie Johnson/FOCUS2 / 2

Wayne Isaacson can’t even remember the last time he was sick.

His medicine cabinet, stocked with natural healing products like essential oils and supplements, has been devoid of traditional over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and sudafed for years, and he hasn’t even missed them. His wife, Julie, and their 11 kids don’t really miss them, either.

The whole family has had no need for the kinds of pills and liquids they used to take. They’ve been coming down with fewer illnesses, and when they do get sick, the symptoms don’t last as long. Julie no longer suffers from the itchy throat and ears that she used to get, and the kids hardly take any sick days off from school anymore. Wayne said he feels healthier and more able-bodied now than he did when he was 30.

“I’m 56 years old and I’ve never felt better in my life,” he said. “I must be doing something right.”

So what changed?

A few years ago, the Isaacsons switched to an almost entirely organic diet. They cut out processed foods and foods with pesticide or antibiotic residues, and instead started consuming wholesome, locally-produced foods.

“And we’re all healthier for it,” according to Wayne.

“We’re so much healthier,” Julie reiterated. “I’ve always been a runner, but I just did a half Ironman (triathlon) this fall, and I feel like, if I wouldn’t have changed my eating, I would’ve gotten hurt before I could’ve finished. I feel like my core is so much stronger now.”

Exercise has also been a part of the picture for Wayne. Just over a decade ago, at the age of 45, he was overweight – and underwhelmed at the general state of his health. He decided that, if he wanted to live long enough to see his kids grow up, he’d better get off the couch and do something. He started slow, doing a little jogging. He also cut down on junk food, but otherwise wasn’t following a strict diet of any sort. Over the course of three years, he lost 90 pounds.

He found he liked running, and he started taking part in some long-distance races. Around that same time, he also started paying a lot more attention to what he was eating. He read Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food,” and was inspired to ditch the typical Western diet and instead focus on eating well-grown, unprocessed foods – and he wanted his family to join him in the journey.

“I decided that, not only should I not be eating that, but I shouldn’t be feeding it to my kids, either,” he said of his former food choices.

The Isaacsons started buying more organic groceries. At first, they just bought as many organic foods as they could afford, and that led them to try new low-cost things like quinoa and different kinds of rices. Their philosophy was that, even if they couldn't go 100 percent organic, they'd do as much as they could; no matter what, they figured, they’d be eating better than they were before.

The more Wayne learned about organic foods, the more he discussed the topic with other people. He was working for a grocery store in Park Rapids, and he learned from a number of customers that they liked and even preferred organic foods, but often had trouble finding them. He decided there was a market for an organic grocery store in the area, so he and Julie opened one.

That’s how A Clean Plate came to be. The Isaacsons opened a store in Menahga four years ago, and in May, they opened a second location in Perham due to customer requests. Their goal is to provide a full-line grocery store full of local and organic goods, at the most affordable prices possible. They try to offer a wide variety of organic products that customers can’t find anywhere else in the area.

Located on West Main Street in Perham, inside the same building as the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum, A Clean Plate sells local, organic produce, dairy, meat, snack foods, cleaning products, vitamins and supplements, beauty and hygiene products, beverages and more.

Wayne and Julie take pride in either knowing their producers personally, or, when that’s not possible, accepting only certified organic foods. Many of their suppliers are small, “mom and pop” teams of growers from within about a 50-mile radius of Perham and Menahga.

A lot of people in Perham are still unaware that A Clean Plate is in town, Wayne said, but the word is slowly getting out, and business has been steadily growing. Those who have visited the shop have good things to say about their experiences: comments on the store’s Facebook page range from the “wonderful service and high quality products” to “affordable prices” and “excellent selection.”

Since opening the store in Menahga, the Isaacson family has eaten “99 percent” organic, Wayne said, and it’s been one of the best things to happen to them. They’re all feeling the benefits of clean eating, and they have no intention of needing to restock that medicine cabinet anytime soon.

Want to start eating healthier?

It’s the start of a New Year, which means a lot of folks are resolving to lose weight and get healthier. ‘Clean eating’ is one means to that end.

According to information at, clean eating is about eating more of the best and healthiest options in each of the food groups, and eating less of the not-so-healthy ones. Intake of whole foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, plus healthy proteins and fats, should go up, while the amount of refined grains, added sugars, salt and unhealthy fats consumed should go down. Those looking to eat clean should also limit their processed foods, reduce their alcohol intake and eat less meat.

These basic tips are general enough to apply to almost anyone, but people looking to lose weight or address a health problem through a diet change should start by doing their research, and consult a professional. Doctors and dieticians can help their patients come up with an individualized diet and exercise plan, which can be the key to feeling better.

Wayne Isaacson, who owns A Clean Plate organic grocery store in Perham with his wife, Julie, said, “There’s not a catch-all for everybody, in health. We’re all different. We all have different issues with our bodies.”

People visit A Clean Plate all the time with questions, the Isaacsons said. They encourage their customers to make healthier eating choices, but also to identify the source of any specific health issues before attempting to treat them.

“The first thing to do to start feeling better is to get clean foods into your body,” Wayne explained. “There’s this thought that all of us, if we're fueling our bodies right, will be a healthy weight. But that's only true if your body is working right. I can't make that happen for people, but I can provide the healthy, wholesome food that can help once they've made a plan with their practitioner.”

“Each person is on their own journey,” Julie added, “and they each need to find their own way.”

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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