By Mary-Justine Lanyon
(Photos by Mary-Justine Lanyon)
First there was Arrowhead Farms Direct – a program through which Alexander Vallejos and Holly Walker distributed farm-fresh produce to local residents.
When Vallejos shared with Bev Eskew at Spade & Spatula that he was thinking of bringing Arrowhead Farms Direct to an end, Eskew told him she would like to see it continue in some way. She broached the idea of flipping it into a cooperative.
That idea gained legs and proponents. A small group gathered around Maggie Eno’s dining room table to discuss the logistics.
That was 18 months ago. What evolved is Mountain Provisions Cooperative, chaired by Eno.
“Our plan,” Eno said, “is to open a natural foods market on the mountain.”
Walker spread the word about the burgeoning co-op through her Arrowhead Farms Direct newsletter.
The original steering committee held a few more meetings. “Maggie and Holly were the glue that kept it together and moving forward,” said Eskew. “We realized we needed more help to move it forward and scheduled an open informational meeting at Spade & Spatula to gauge interest and involvement in the wider community. We held a brainstorming meeting and had a fantastic turnout! The decision was made to push forward.”
They formed their board of directors, which in addition to Eno includes Gavin Bialecki, vice chair; Stephanie Vondras and Clair Lovelle, secretary; Holly Walker, treasurer; Amy Lee, Bev Eskew, Lauren Kruz, Lauri Carleton, Luis Uzal, Tim Morrison and Wendy Mashburn.
In the midst of their planning – which includes looking for the right brick-and-mortar site for the store – the series of severe winter storms hit.
“We opened a free store in response to the blizzard,” Eno said. That store has been open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the former gas station and antique store at 28930 Hook Creek Road in Cedar Glen. Eno and Bialecki – who were manning the store on March 14 – hope to keep the free store open for another month, or until they run out of donated supplies.
On that Friday, there was a steady stream of people who came in. Some had seen a notice about the store on Facebook. Others wondered what the store was. One couple came in with an armful of warm jackets to donate.
“As fast as people bring things in,” Eno said, “they fly out the door.”
The M.P.C. store has a wealth of items for babies – baby food, diapers, formula, wipes. It also has a variety of canned goods – soup, vegetables, fruit – as well as rice, spaghetti sauce, granola and milk in aseptic packaging.
Of particular interest to many shoppers is the fresh produce – celery, yellow squash, potatoes, tomatoes.
They also have boxes donated by the California Food Box Program that have enough food for three people.
“Our donations have come from a variety of sources,” Eno said. The first ones, she said, came directly from the county. They also got some from Mountain Area Mutual Aid. “When a group gets a delivery, they have been sharing with others,” she noted.
The M.P.C. board was planning to hold a meeting to discuss disbursement of the monies donated to the GoFundMe account the cooperative set up. “We reached out to people off the mountain to raise funds to help out any way possible,” Eno said. They are considering sharing the funds with a number of nonprofits on the mountain.
When the storms hit, Bialecki said, “we were in the middle of planning our launch, which we had set for Earth Day. When that got delayed, we decided to respond to the need and do a prelaunch to let people know we’re here.”
In the future, Bialecki added, “we need to think about disaster preparedness. We want to find a way for the co-op to be part of future relief.”
This summer the M.P.C. plans to have CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) boxes available. There will be, said Bialecki, a mix of fruits and vegetables from local farmers. Co-op members will be offered a discounted price.
On June 11 the M.P.C. plans to have a. launch party at Lake Arrowhead Brewing starting at 2 p.m. “We hope to get members signed up,” Bialecki said. “We’ll have boxes people preordered and boxes to buy.”
They want to include a specialty item in each box, perhaps a Lake Arrowhead candle, salsa made by a local farmer or local honey.
During the blizzard, Travis Lanthier – owner of Lake Arrowhead Brewing and, like Bialecki, a Rim graduate – brewed a special beer, Blizzard Warning. He donated some of the proceeds to the coop.
“We want to create a cornerstone,” said Eno. “A place for people to gather, have juice, coffee, a cookie.” And they also plan to eventually have a community annex where they will offer classes. Eno sees retired experts offering monthly education workshops.
Mountain Provisions Cooperative is developing its website – mountainprovisions.coop – which should be up and running in a matter of weeks.