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When three midcoast women who all run small, plant-based home businesses met as stallholders at the United Farmers Market in Belfast, they could have seen each other as competition.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead of competing, the three have joined forces to start The Alchemist Cafe, described as a “plant-based wellness cafe,” in the Belfast Opera House building. The cafe showcases the talents of Linda Prichard of Fancy Plants, Kate Hall of GRAZE and Amanda Peaslee of Pure Herbal Healing.
Prichard, a Waldo woman who has spent 20 years perfecting her recipes for vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free treats, said that the women knew they had a lot in common from the beginning.
“We instantly clicked,” she said. “The three of us bonded over wanting to float wellness into the community.”
And that’s what The Alchemist does best. There, hungry customers can sample grab-and-go food made by Prichard and Hall that includes the Detox Glow Salad, seasonal soups such as a watermelon and mango gazpacho, lemon chia pudding, chai spiced chocolate, rocky road brownie, hemp seed truffles and much more. All are so tasty that it might not be immediately clear that they are vegan and healthy, according to the entrepreneurs. That may be part of the point.
“Everybody needs health and something that’s tasty,” Hall said.
Those who stop in can also fill their baskets with Peaslee’s skin care and herbal healing products, which she makes using natural ingredients such as rose petals, lemon balm, nasturtiums and more. Among her wares are Jupiter Rising, a purple-hued face cream made with butterfly pea flowers, Tulsi, chamomile, lavender, bergamot and blue tansy oils, and facial toner made with Rosa Rugosa petals.
Or they can order up a three-, five- or seven-day juice cleanse from Hall, who is able to craft a plan for a person’s specific needs, which could include digestion issues or sluggishness.
“Everything’s fresh, and what I don’t grow and produce, we source from local, organic farms,” Hall said. “My big crusade is about health, and also about agriculture and farming. We can teach our children about the importance in health of respecting our planet, respecting our community and respecting our neighbors.”
She knows about the connection between health and plants firsthand. After her son was born in 2017, she became very ill, but it took some time for doctors to figure out what was wrong. They thought it was postpartum disorder and depression, and tried to treat her symptoms, but it didn’t work, she said.
“I actually wrote a letter to my son because I thought I was going to die. It was that bad,” she said.
Hall, who eventually learned she had an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease, took her health into her own hands. She started eating microgreens and removed dairy, sugar and wheat from her diet.
“Within three months, I had everything back,” she said, adding that even though her ordeal was difficult, she believes she is in a better place now because of it. “I feel like it was a gift. It changes you and makes you so much stronger than you thought you were.”
These days, she wants others to have the same gift of health that she does. She grows microgreens, edible flowers and other produce that she sells at restaurants such as The Lost Kitchen in Freedom and The Hichborn in Stockton Springs as well as at the United Farmers Market. It’s at the market that she saw firsthand how people tried her wares and came back for more.
“It was a total reassurance that I was on the right path,” she said.
Prichard has had her own health journey with plant-based foods, which began when a friend went on a raw food diet and encouraged her to try it, too.
“I was blown away by how I felt,” she said. “Your energy never wanes.”
At the United Farmers Market, Prichard has developed an avid following, just like Hall and Peaslee.
“All three of us have had people come up and say, ‘Where can I get your stuff during the week,’” Prichard said.
The Alchemist is their answer. And more than just a cafe or store, she is hopeful that it will have an educational element, too.
“After 20 years, I have a lot to share,” she said. “I want to help people explore and find the power of plant-based eating.”
The Alchemist Cafe at 9D Beaver St., Belfast, is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.