Monica Morris is shopping for ingredients to make her annual zucchini relish. Normally around this time of year, farmers have zucchini "coming out their ears," she says. But finding a large number of affordable zucchinis this July has been a challenge. That's why Morris has driven from Arcata to Blue Lake, where the small Powers Creek Produce stand is her last hope.
"How many pounds of zucchini do you have?" she asks owner Trevor Guthrie.
"Well, a lot," Guthrie says with his characteristic can-do attitude. He is affable and on the young side of 44, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and board shorts.
"I need 20 cups of zucchini, shredded," Morris says, all business.
Guthrie does some quick calculations and determines that Morris should buy all of his zucchini, which came from Rain Frog Farm in Blue Lake. He piles them onto a scale and tucks them into a bag. Morris looks on with measured approval, then drops a bomb. She also needs a mountain of scallions.
Guthrie doesn't have them right now but he refuses to let her down. Not today.
"I have a supplier who does scallions," he says. "I could look into that."
Guthrie seems like he's been connecting Humboldt residents with local produce for years, decades even. In fact, Guthrie started less than a month ago, after COVID-19 disrupted his 30-year career in event lighting.
Guthrie grew up in Arcata and knew at the age of 15 that he wanted to be a stage manager, a lights man, a behind-the-scenes guy for events. For his first paid gig, he built the sets for the 1993 horror film Dark Carnival. About a deadly haunted house attraction, the film wasn't good (nor was it so bad it was good). But Guthrie had his start and soon he moved to San Francisco, where he quickly established himself as a lighting expert for events, working for community theaters, music venues and traveling shows. He got a job with the San Francisco Opera. He worked Outside Lands. He became a stage manager for the Herbst Theatre. Ultimately, he found himself doing entertainment lighting for corporate events. He's probably not supposed to say which ones but if you guessed, say, Facebook's F8, who would Guthrie be to correct you?
About four years ago, Guthrie relocated to Blue Lake with his wife Sadie and their two sons, but he often returned to the Bay Area for work. This year his spring and summer were booked solid with tech events down south. Then the pandemic happened. "I lost three months of work in two days," Guthrie remembers. "Imagine every person you know professionally is unemployed. Everyone."
Call it the "new normal" or "the great reset" or whatever else you want, Guthrie was abruptly thrown from his linear path. He imagined events would return in a year and a half, maybe two. But in the meantime, he started wondering about what else he'd like to do in life. He had talked about starting a garden and already planted watermelons, pumpkins, tomatoes and novelty popcorn at a friend's farm.
As he watched as food supply chains collapse across the United States, Guthrie began to think bigger. He wanted to get to know farmers who lived near Blue Lake, to support them while connecting his neighbors to fresh produce. Sure, they could shop at the farmers markets in Arcata on Saturdays or McKinleyville on Thursdays, but wouldn't it feel safer to visit a little food stand right here in Blue Lake? So Powers Creek Produce was born.
Like Guthrie's event gigs, the produce stand would be ephemeral, open only Thursdays and Fridays. The job similarities ended there, though, and that challenge felt exciting. He registered the business. He secured a spot in the Mad River Grange parking lot. He set up social media accounts. He began reaching out to local farmers to see what they might sell him. And for the first time in his life, Guthrie bought his own event canopy.
The hardest thing about starting a produce stand, he learned, is getting the produce. "I spend a solid day doing nothing but contacting people and lining up product," he says.
On July 23 — two weeks after the grand opening — the stand has filled out and word seems to have gotten around. Blue Lake Mayor Adelene Jones shows up to buy some juicy Neukom peaches. Cynthia Gourley-Bagwell, the curator of the Blue Lake Museum, snags four Earthly Edibles artichokes that originated in Korbel. Jen McFadden, co-owner of Booklegger in Eureka, picks up peaches, garlic, broccoli and her pièce de résistance — a heart carved from cedar and sanded by Guthrie's 8-year-old son, Sylvester.
"It's so nice and smooth," McFadden says. "You have sanded this to perfection."
"Is there a child labor issue?" another customer deadpans.
"He gets all the proceeds, so it's not quite like that," Guthrie says.
Although Guthrie isn't sure what his own profits from this little experiment will look like, he's enjoyed making new connections and working with farmers. And all the support from his neighbors has been sweet.
After hearing about Guthrie's foray into the unknown, I decide to buy some shiitake mushrooms to grill. Guthrie suggests marinating them in soy sauce and sprinkling bits of shiso from Woody Ryno Farms in McKinleyville. Just one shiso carton left. I've never bought the minty Japanese herb before so I go for it. If it works out, he can always find me more.
Ashley Harrell is a staff writer at the Journal and prefers she/her pronouns. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Instagram at where_smashley_went.