Heart of the Ridge: Venerable Mother Truckers market is community’s epicenter
It is a hungry man’s reward for navigating the steep grades and hairpin turns of the Yuba River Canyon on Highway 49 and the stretch of Tyler-Foote Crossing Road once traversed by prospectors hoping to homestead a piece of the American dream.
It is a refuge for those in their weathered, two-toned Toyota pickups jerry-rigged with bungee cords tethered to front bumpers and rusty hoods. They drift into the parking lot for a cup of decaf Guatemalan roast and a carob-coated Rice Krispy treat, stopping just long enough to chat with a friend or pick up a buddy, thumb pointed in the direction of the river.
They stop here at the epicenter of the San Juan Ridge to share stories of a slower-paced life, of political activism, of life off the electrical grid, and of living purposefully, just so long as it’s done organically and with a humanistic approach.
It’s all done in front of the Mother Truckers market, which in nearly 30 years has been less about the food and more about the friendships cultivated by the people who call this patch of land home.
What once was a refuge for those looking to get lost after fleeing America’s urban environs opens its arms to everyone, whether you wear tie-dye or a necktie.
“These people are hippies with a conscience,” Mother Truckers shopper David Kurth said. “You won’t find more fat, bearded white guys anywhere else than in this little area.”
Out front, the yellow store is fairly nondescript. A few large trees provide shade for the morning coffee drinkers at the corner of Oak Tree and Tyler-Foote Crossing roads. Men wave to friends rolling by in dusty Subarus or on dirt bikes. More often than not, the people doing the waving are friends living within an afternoon’s walk of the venerable store.
Inside, visitors are greeted with an aroma that hints of earth, vitamins, incense and a scent that’s unmistakable to anyone who’s ever spent any time up here.
People like Ed Boast make Mother Truckers a daily routine.
“This is more of an extended family social experience,” he said, sipping a cup of coffee under one of the oak trees by the intersection.
“I can’t come here and not find someone I can be in conversation with,” said Boast, 57, who lives “off the grid” on Sages Road behind the Ananda Village religious community, a few miles east of the Mother Truckers intersection.
Life of choice, not chance
Boast and an ex-girlfriend left urban Seattle for the hinterlands 27 years ago, never to return.
He avoids the trip to bustling Grass Valley whenever he can, too, preferring to cruise Mother Truckers’ aisles for organically grown fruits and vegetables to support his primarily raw-food diet.
“They have more things happening here than they do in town,” he said.
A quick look at the bulletin board tells the tale: handmade advertisements for used cars, lost cats, a family of three looking for a home asking people “to call us with any leads or opportunities,” fliers encouraging people to ride the peace bus to Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory to commemorate bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and announcements hailing the opening of a Wiccan store in Nevada City.
“It’s a few steps above your normal family store because of the vibes,” said Mother Truckers’ employee Veronique Samson, who has lived in Nevada County since 1979 and worked at the store since 1990.
“This place isn’t for everybody,” said Mark Maxey, 49, who lives on a 40-acre chicken, cow and sheep ranch nearby. He was told about the ranch several years ago by Pulitzer Prize winner and San Juan Ridge resident Gary Snyder.
Mother Truckers clerk Gabriel Herrera, 23, was working in a used bookstore in El Paso, Texas, a few years ago, when his wife, Kathy Boyer, a midwife, wanted to show him what trees looked like. Four years later, Herrera and his wife live just up the road and have built a home for their family, which includes a 2-year-old son.
“We have to work harder to live out here,” said DiAnn Smith, who traded in her heels, pantyhose, and, she says, her razor when she moved here from Reno a few years ago.
“Things like that don’t matter to me any more.”
Mother Truckers, and the Ridge, by extension, is a secret that Molly Jochem, 29, doesn’t want anyone to know about.
“I don’t want people to even think about this area,” said Jochem, a Mother Truckers’ clerk who has lived on the Ridge her whole life.
“But now, you’ve ruined my dream.”
The store opened in 1975 when Nici van Kriedt and Michael Baranowski decided to create a place where local farmers could “truck” their primarily organic produce. Its name was a natural fit, said Stor van Kriedt, daughter of the founders.
“We all really love Mother Earth, but the food had to get trucked in somehow,” she said, carting a watermelon to her car Friday morning.
Van Kriedt, who moved to the area when she was 3 years old, remembers her father selling produce out of the back of his truck near where the store currently stands.
Current owners Lucy and Bruce Bottrell have run the store for the past 27 years. They also own Natural Selection in Grass Valley.
Lucy Bottrell has spent a considerable amount of time stocking Mother Truckers to match the diverse tastes of those who live up on the Ridge and the curious who visit.
There are “tree free” greeting cards made from the kernal plant, organic chocolate bars, ravioli and quarts of Ben and Jerry’s organic ice cream.
You can buy locally produced CDs of “Ridgestock 2001” and didgeridoo player Ludi Hinrichs or scoop your bulk dog and cat food from two huge metal bins located in the back of the store.
Their video collection is decidedly mainstream, with titles such as “About Schmidt,” “Kill Bill,” “Cold Mountain” and “Barbershop II” taking up most of the shelf space for such things. There is, however, a “Japanimation” section dedicated to Asian animated film.
Behind the cash registers are metal tins holding all manner of rolling papers for cigars, cigarettes or whatever puff you need. The point is, nobody asks what you need the papers for, because nobody needs to know.
‘Center of everything’
“After I moved here, it was like I was accepted as family,” said Tom Wease, 41, who arrives at Mother Truckers each morning to chat with a group of locals. He, too, buys everything he needs right in the yellow building, except toilet paper.
“They don’t have the big rolls that I like,” said Wease, who is married with five children. On this particular morning, Wease is dressed in a tie-dyed shirt, shorts and sandals.
With his long hair and laid-back approach to life, Wease, who moved to the Ridge from Portland six years ago, knows what a lot of out-of-towners think about him and about residents who live nearby.
“I don’t think you can stereotype anybody at Mother Truckers. Whether you’re rich, poor, whatever, everybody seems to get along.”
Asked to quantify what he meant, Wease paused to hug a man who pulled up on a moped. The two embraced for a moment.
“Where’s Webster when you need him?” Wease joked. “This is the center of everything.”
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