Susie Farbin was 12 when her mother, Jean Farbin, decided to change her family’s eating habits. She cut out processed foods and introduced whole grains and natural organic products she often bought in bulk.

When the family moved from Chicago to Ava in 1975, Jean was frustrated by the lack of affordable natural foods. By 1979, she’d opened her own store in the basement of her house. By then Susie, 19, was living in Columbia, going to school, getting married and starting a family.

A few years later, her family moved to Ava and Farbin started helping her mom part time. When the kids went to school — son Jeff, now 29, and daughter Kelly, 33 — Susie started helping her mother full time, learning the business.

Diana Hicks and Farbin met in 1996 through mutual friends and Hicks started visiting Farbin at the Ava store on weekends to help out, or as Farbin calls it, “to play store.”

Farbin noticed her mother’s store was attracting customers from Springfield, and around the year 2000, she said, she and Hicks started thinking about opening a natural food store of their own in the city.

Farbin was confident it would be a success, she said, and that she had what it took to run a business. After all, working for her mom “was the best business school you could possibly be in, having a business that is unconventional in an economically depressed area, you really learn about business and frugal spending.”

Hicks worked at the corporate offices of O’Reilly Auto Parts, doing everything from accounting to advertising, photography and internal communications.

Between them, they had a well-rounded skill set. And at the time, Farbin said, there was only one other store that offered bulk food selection in Springfield.

Hicks lived across the street from Nancy Dornan who owns Maschino’s and had 7,000 square feet of building space for lease. It wasn’t long before a conversation with Dornan led to pulling the trigger on setting up shop.

Farbin applied for business licenses and had contacts already with vendors.

Their initial investment was $200,000.

They named the store for both their mothers: Farbin’s mother Jean and Hicks’ mom, Loweta (MaMa). And then they set to work setting up the store, doing all the woodwork, painting, tile, shelving and more themselves.

They grew it slowly and carefully that first year.

“And year two it just exploded,” Farbin said.

For several years, Hicks continued to work at O’Reilly’s, working weekends and free time on the store.

“It was very lean,” Farbin said. “We couldn’t afford to pay her yet. We couldn’t afford to pay me. But I ate well.”

When they opened their second store in the summer of 2008, Hicks started planning her retirement in January 2009.

Since then she’s been full time with their business. They couldn’t have managed a third store without her on full time, the women say.