The Locastore aims to be your (tiny) new corner market.
Sure, Sonoma County might experience some food aridity, but an actual food desert is fortunately difficult to find here, particularly since the Target on Santa Rosa Avenue began selling groceries to the underserved residents of the southeast part of town.
But food deserts, generally defined as areas without access to healthy, affordable food, do exist here.
Think of our outlying areas—Jenner, Bodega, and Bloomfield, for example. While they may be gorgeous outposts of rural living, they boast nothing remotely like a grocery store, and residents can regularly find themselves driving for up to 30 miles to get fresh foods.
Enter the small tornado of energy also known as Susan Butler.
Sometime between now and April 2014, Butler will have succeeded—and there’s really no doubt about her success—in establishing the first Locastore, a 120-square-foot off-the-grid building that will sell fresh, local foods only during daylight hours. Call it the new corner store.
This is Butler’s second time around in Sonoma County. The first was in 1971, when she arrived starry-eyed onto Bill Wheeler’s Occidental commune and became the first woman to build a house there. She returned here in 2007, having been a contractor specializing in restoring historic houses in Washington, D.C., for 10 years. The lead in the old houses was like to kill her. She recuperated in Idaho, got healthy, and headed back out all the way west.
Butler got the idea for the Locastore when she was trying to teach an 11-year-old girl how to make money. “I have a tremendous green thumb,” Butler says, “and I’d been growing vegetables instead of flowers. I used to grow flowers because vegetables require that you harvest them and cook them and preserve them and eat them.” A lot of work, admittedly. Work that goes all soft and slimy if left undone.
“God’s chosen place in all the world,” as Luther Burbank once famously called our area, is often awash in way too many fresh foods than can be ably placed into hungry bellies. Locastore aims to help end that. Gretchen Giles
Butler took her harvest of perishables and her young friend down to Hardcore Espresso in Sebastopol, asking the owner if they could sell her produce to customers on the spot. An agreement was struck and the two were soon making between $30-$40 an hour. And then the 11-year-old got bored.
Butler, however, was smitten. She inquired about the empty lot across the street, was given permission to use it, and soon began drawing up plans to build a “tiny” house that could be moved if needed—and certainly could be replicated.
The idea behind the Locastore is that it will be completely stocked with such local, pre-washed, “non-hazardous” farm goods as fresh eggs and flowers, bread and mushrooms, herbs and fruit, and packaged items made solely by local vendors who source area materials.
Currently open once a month for special sales, the Locastore will be open Dec. 1-25 with holiday-themed non-food items made in the North Bay while Butler awaits the end of her rather byzantine permitting process.
Once open, Butler plans to purchase farm market goods that go unsold and has begun to facilitate relationships with area growers for their overstock. “God’s chosen place in all the world,” as Luther Burbank once famously called our area, is often awash in way too many fresh foods than can be ably placed into hungry bellies. Locastore aims to help end that.
It also boasts an ambitious business plan. Once Butler gets her first store launched at the corner of Bloomfield Road and Highway 116, she plans for 10 Locastores total to populate Western Sonoma County, each weighted with the goal of producing six new jobs.
Butler’s Locastore website also has information on how to register your own private garden with the county Ag Commissioner (she did it for herself this summer and reports that it took 10 minutes and cost nothing).
“We want to sell products from those types of gardens,” Butler says. “Part of the idea is to create a more resilient community with home jobs that have actual income.
“It’s kind of an emergency preparedness goal, too,” she adds. “This is a local food distribution system fallback if gas goes to $10 a gallon. People can get to the Locastore by walking or biking.
“That,” she says with evident satisfaction, “is the big picture.”