A new moon signifies rebirth and the shedding of old ways in search of fresh beginnings. When the alternative-food movement was still young in the Sierra Nevada in the 1970s, a group of intrepid mountain folk banded together to purchase organic produce from a self-organized van delivery service that came to be known as Mountain People’s Warehouse.
This labor of love inspired the North Shore’s first health-foods storefront called We The People Co-op, which closed after a fire. Tahoe Community Market was born from its ashes.
By 1996, Mountain People’s Warehouse had grown throughout the West, eventually merging with the East Coast’s Cornucopia to become United Natural Foods (UNFI), now a Fortune 500 company and the largest distributor of natural products in the country.
UNFI works to help small grocers such as Billy Griffin make their visions become a reality. As Tahoe Community Market’s general manager, Griffin bought the store from Mark Calhoun in 1997 and reopened it as New Moon Natural Foods.
“We’re North Lake Tahoe’s gatekeeper for natural products,” says Griffin. “A lot of products that purport to be natural are only natural in one respect or another. For example, something might have an organic ingredient or two, but it could still be factory-farmed. We hold a number of standards that our customers look for.”
New Moon sources its stock predominantly from the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills of California.
Griffin and the friendly New Moon staff coordinate with UNFI and other partners to research the best products available in the region before pooling their resources to buy in bulk at a pre-agreed amount for the season.
“We lend our stability,” says Griffin. “It gives the farms certainty so we can help them grow their business. And it’s always a great, ethically sourced, local product.”
One example from 117-miles upstate is the fine selection of meats provided by Hulsman Ranch out of Susanville. Under the same family ownership since 1862, this sustainable venture raises animals out at pasture on a natural diet of native grasses.
“We’re their biggest distributor,” says Griffin of Hulsman’s meats. “Even if we only do half-dozen contracts like this a year, that’s a half-dozen more people living their passion because of New Moon. It should be a vehicle to bring out the best in humanity.”
New Moon’s mission is to nourish and strengthen the community through ethical food choices that support sustainability, stewardship and fairness across the globe.
The storefronts in Truckee and Tahoe City promote local independence, economic and social justice, holistic health, environmental stewardship and animal welfare.
“In our busy lives, it’s hard to find the time to really look into where we’re sourcing our food,” says Griffin. “We do it so you don’t have to. We know the stories behind the companies that make our products. You can come here and shop your values without doing all the work because we’ve already been there. All you have to do is show up and partake.”
The energetic grocer takes this proactive, receptive approach to stocking his well-organized grocery’s produce, dairy, cheese, bread, bulk and wellness aisles.
“It’s about creating symbiotic relationships,” says Griffin. “We do our best to carry products that meet our standards, but also support local and independent people doing independent things.”
Although the margins are slim and the labor costs are high, especially in a mountain town with an affordable-housing problem, Griffin endeavors to provide his employees with not only a living wage, but enjoyment, fun and a meaningful sense of purpose at work.
“I think most people recognize the sincerity and genuineness that it means coming in every day,” he says. “That rubs off on the customers and how they feel about it. And that’s free; it didn’t cost us a thing.”
If you’ve ever been out on the town with the New Moon staff, you’d know they are a fun bunch of people who are truthfully a tribe unto themselves, a hip clan of present, generous, open-minded, diligent humans who live and represent the store’s liberated values.
“They’re not just here because they need a job,” says Griffin. “They believe in what we are doing and that creates a kind of camaraderie among people. From there, it’s easy to take it to friendship.” | newmoonnaturalfoods.com