The cafe counter at Camas Organic Market and Bakery is full at the lunch hour.
The six-or-so patrons strung out across the tabletop are an eclectic bunch: at one end is a Native American couple, beside them a fellow known affectionately as Huckleberry Bob and farther down the line, an art-scene guru decked in colorful jewelry. It’s this medley of characters that Hot Springs is known for — well, apart from the mineral waters, of course.
And although the cafe visitors hail from different backgrounds, conversation flows easily between the parties, with occasional interjections by bubbly kitchen manager Amanda Wood, who busily dishes up steaming bowls of vindaloo or soba noodles dressed in vegetables.
Store owner Linny Gibson makes an appearance, briefly, to swap out a platter of chocolate truffles, her white-gray hair trailing behind her as she disappears into the belly of the kitchen.
Gibson has been at the helm of the market since joining with David Ronniger, who died earlier this year, to open the business in May 2011. The pair wanted to create a space where locally grown food could be gathered and then sold back to the community from whence it came, along with providing practical staples and specialty health foods — think kombucha, on tap.
And what better site than Hot Springs?
“[Ronniger] came here and felt like he was in the middle of a food desert, so decided to open the store,” Gibson explained over a cup of tea. “I’d been driving miles and miles to get my food. We got together and opened this place and kept it going. In July of this year, David died so now it’s up to me. We were business partners and best friends and life partners.”
Ronniger, a potato farmer by trade, was well-known in the agriculture industry. He made a name for himself by pioneering the development of diverse spuds on his Idaho farm, saving native seeds and opening one of Salt Lake City’s first health-food stores in the 1970s. A painted portrait of Ronniger sits on a shelf inside the store. The market’s patriarch may not be around any longer, but he’s still watching over the place.
“There’s so many people growing [produce] around here and if there’s a place where people can bring it, instead of all of that food going out, away, it’s coming here first,” Gibson said.
When tomato growers turned out a banner crop last year, local farmers brought their excess to Gibson to stock her shelves. She turns to area producers for everything she can in season — prioritizing organic and locally grown crops before turning to distributors out of the area.
“We try and get seasonal food,” she said. “Like apples in the middle of summer? Those would probably have to be from Chile, so I would have less of those. Apples this time of year, they’re all from around here and Washington.”
In the rear of the shop is the cafe and bakery, where Wood supplies hearty vegetarian fare and baker Ptery Lieght turns out anything from nut-topped brownies to loaves of sprouted Kamut bread. The special changes daily and the market prides itself on offering a global menu where off-the-beaten-path ingredients such as celeriac and burdock root are featured regularly.
“We want people to understand that organic food is delicious,” Gibson said. “People think of organic food as hippie food or that it’s gonna be cardboard-tasting, so we wanted to showcase the products that we have on our shelves.”
Although vegetables are the star of the show, Camas Market is planning to add a barbecue in the summer months, and to furnish the outdoor patio for an alfresco dining experience. Growth has been moderate over the years. The latest big leap was the opening of the large cafe space at the end of 2016, but for Gibson and her staff, it’s not about the money.
“We’re not doing this to make a fortune; it’s a labor of love and it’s for community, it’s for the people. We eat good, but nobody here is making the big bucks,” she said.
“We’re rolling in the dough, but not the green kind,” Wood added.
More than anything, they’re rich in community. The come one, come all spirit is alive in the variety of market patrons who walk through the market’s doors and the goods along their shelves.
The come hungry and leave happy, full of food and friendship.
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.