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How Mother Truckers Began

posted Oct 6, 2016, 9:36 AM by Kristin Snell

by Michael Baronowsky

               Based on my diary entries and fading memories I would like to describe how Mother Truckers came to be:

On a warm spring evening in 1974, a number of Ridge neighbors gathered under the stars round a campfire in the yard of an empty building which was (for reasons unknown to this recent arrival) called the Fire Hall.  This dilapidated structure (it’s no longer there) was located across the street from what is now Mother Truckers, at Tyler Foote Crossing and Purdon Road.  The purpose of the meeting was to establish a food buying club, or in hippie-speak, a “food conspiracy,” so that bulk discount prices could be procured on natural foods from a Berkeley distributor called Westbrae Natural Foods.  Westbrae was willing to send a delivery truck monthly up to the Ridge if we could manage to put together a large enough order.  A bit of brainstorming in this imaginative group came up with the clever name for itself, the “Mother Lode Grub Club.”  A list of items that people wished to have available was created and within a few days a mimeographed order form was circulated about the community.  Within a short time orders and money were collected and Westbrae made its first delivery.  Within a short period, we began acquiring food and even animal feed from other sources.

July 28, 1974

Diary:  I practically never shop for my food in a store.  What doesn’t come from my garden comes through my neighborhood food conspiracy (I am treasurer and coordinator) where we buy our staples directly in bulk from farmers, wholesalers and granaries for as little as half of retail prices.

September 28, 1974

Diary:  We’re no longer merely a neighborhood food cooperative.  Our membership sports a hundred mile radius, last month our order grew to $3300.  We’re growing by about $500 a month.  I’m starting to drive food back up from Chico in a rental truck.  I’m still coordinating the whole affair, looks like there could be a future in it.

November 8, 1974

Diary:  I’m spending an increasing amount of time gathering food for the cooperative.  Last delivery reached a total of $4000. 

January 28, 1975

Diary:  I’m sorry to report that this past month the Grub Club broke up into six little cooperatives.  The Ridgies that started it grew uncomfortable with the increasing size and breadth of participation, the red tape and administration.  We had reached $6000 on our last delivery.  I’m so disappointed.  But meanwhile I’ve been getting a feel for the economics and politics of the natural foods industry.  I may mesh into opening a weekend food stall, selling stuff in bulk and in season.

(One of these Grub Clubs, by the way, eventually evolved into The Grass Valley Briarpatch.)

It all began to come together on a spring day in 1975.  The weather was perfect for what Bob Jaffe and I had in mind that day.  We had heard that it was possible to drive down to the peach canning station near Marysville, pull a pickup truck under the cull hopper, have a big load of rock-hard discarded Cling peaches dumped within, and drive off with them, free of charge.  Bobby’s wife, Daele Merrell, was keen on canning preserves, which was also becoming very popular on the Ridge, so we thought we’d try our luck at selling the peaches out in front of the house at Al’s Corners.  So the two of us went and picked up the peaches in Bobby’s truck whilst Daele painted a plywood sign that read, “PEACHES – 5 CENTS LB.” 

When we got to the Corners we parked under the ragged old fruitless mulberry tree (still there, but standing erect in those days) that vaguely divided the roadway from the parking area in front of the house.  We sold out of those peaches in about two hours’ time.

The potential for a grocery outlet there was obvious.  Al’s Corners was a central crossroads for the newly burgeoning hippie population.  We needed a name to make our venture seem real.  MOTHER Lode Grub Club had its origins just across the street and the fact that Bobby’s TRUCK was our makeshift storefront led Daele to muse and link these two capitalized words together.  At the time, “Mother Truckers” seemed to us a humorous and yet take-no-nonsense kind of name.

A few days later we returned to Marysville and got more peaches, then drove to Paradise and bought some cases of apple juice from old Mrs. Heinke herself.  This time, while selling our wares at Al’s Corners, a stern state trooper made us move off the roadway.  So we backed up a bit. 

There was really no marked separation from the road and the parking lot of the house (that was now built over the charred foundation of Al’s Corners Bar – an out-of-business establishment from before my time).  But the moment we moved into the parking lot in front of the white corner house with purple trim, its tenant, Key-man Jim Huth came storming out, appearing angry that we hadn’t procured his permission to set up there.  After some on-the-spot negotiating, Key-man rented, there-and-then, his garage to us.  We soon became the best of friends.

Out of the garage we ran our outlet every Wednesday and then added Saturdays to our schedule, selling mostly nonperishable items, until the health department got wind of us and said the garage was not sanitary enough for food distribution.  Key-man Jim then came to the rescue and rented us a front room in his house.  Someone donated an old refrigerator.  The Palace Grocery in Nevada City (now the New Moon) went out of business and sold us their old dilapidated refrigeration for $25.  (I fell through their rotting floor while picking up a freezer.)  A few years came to pass before we took over the entire building at Al’s Corners, room by room, and actually kept normal business hours.  (Key-man moved up the road and took over the Country Store.)  At some point we tore out the kitchen, all the inner walls and put in the current walk-in refrigerator with its classy glass display doors.

There it was.  We had a going business.  We had a location.

We were now patronized by the hippie masses, and more than the occasional red-neck, (Is there a difference anymore?) with visits by the likes of Governor Brown and celebrities such as Linda Ronstadt, Supertramp and Rosalie Sorrels, gurus, lunatics, and poets such as Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg (who once threw a wild tantrum when loin-clothed Frank Clearwater tossed him a peace sign and his signature phrase, “Love is Everywhere”).

And so it was.  A local store was born where food politics mattered.  A casual but important meeting place for all.  A cause worth fighting for; when the county threatened to shut us down, a Ridge crowd stormed a planning commission meeting and displayed its mettle.  Beloved by many, intrinsic to the culture and economy of the Ridge.

So I hereby finally register, in print, an accurate version of how Mother Truckers Cooperative Venture came to the San Juan Ridge in the beautiful and prosperous green spring of 1975; and who began and nurtured that baby store and how it got its title, and wherefore began to fade away, to all but those few that still remember, the name “Al’s Corners.”