GROTON -- "When you are lucky enough to find your life's calling and mission, time flies and every day is a reminder that I am doing what I love," owner Joan Reardon told the crowd who gathered on Saturday, June 7, to congratulate her on this milestone anniversary.

Out came the scrapbooks and eyes got misty as hugs were shared between customers, staff and, of course, the smiling owner Joan Reardon.

When Joan's son, Mark, was born she discovered organic and whole foods and how they could keep the body healthy. Early in her career as a licensed registered nurse with a bachelor's degree from Boston College, Joan worked in hospitals and saw lives filled with sickness and ill health.

In 1972 she discovered a group of women who were passionate about nutrition and soon her life was transformed. "I went from having no energy, along with food cravings and a seesaw appetite, to making healthy food choices that gave me energy, restful sleep and a whole new understanding about how food is your medicine and medicine is your food. I learn something new every day and my passion is renewed each time I share my knowledge with someone in need.

"I knew then that I wanted a career in disease prevention; sharing the secrets to a long healthy life with as many people as possible," Joan recalls. "It feels like yesterday when in 1978 we opened our first store in Ayer. We moved into this 2,000-square-foot location in 1997; it used to be the Groton post office."

By her side on Saturday were her daughter, Chris Eaton, who opened this store with her, and her son and certified nutritionist, Eric Reardon, who has an office at the store.

"It was very exciting to open a new store," Eaton said. "We were expanding into a much larger space in a beautiful historic building. We were eager to offer our customers a wide selection of products and services. Everything I feed my family I learned from my mother. I am so thankful for all she taught me."

Also on hand was staffer Elisa Adams, who was part of the team that opened this store back in 1997. "I've come and gone about three times over the last 17 years," she said, laughing. "Joan and I share this same passion and calling. We've been friends for a very long time and I, too, feel lucky to be working in a field that I know is very important to people's lives and well-being. Joan brought wellness to Groton and this entire area and what has blossomed nearby because of The Natural Market is truly astounding."

Linda Saraco is one of the local venders who supplies the store with soaps created in small batches in Chelmsford (Zasscelou Soaps). Dressed in 18th-century garb, she set up her display of soaps on the porch and provided attendees the chance to win soaps and to name their three favorites from her table.

"This store is a real find," she said. "Before I even placed my soaps here I shopped at least once a week. The free-range eggs from the farm, the organic fruits and vegetables and all the supplements and vitamins my husband and I take are here -- plus expert help. The staff here is exceptionally willing to provide information and their concern for their customers is not something I have found in any other store."

The Natural Market is located at 148 Main St., Groton, MA, 978-448-5075. Discover more at www.thenaturalmarket.com.