PHILIPSBURG — Historically, Philipsburg’s miners were more interested in getting reach than shopping for organic produce. But today’s residents, visitors, are a different breed.
An idea that emerged last spring during the pandemic is on its way to becoming permanent. But backers of the idea to share food here in Granite County say they could use a new location.
Leigh Dollard and her friends were just starting Philipsburg Food Share when the pandemic hit, using social media and innovation to soldier through, and catching the attention of two local shoppers.
“I didn’t know it was the nonprofit time, ” new co-owner Brock Long explained. “I’m like if they ever sell that, I want it. Let’s buy that. That’ll be a fun business to run.”
And this past winter they got their chance. Now, the Longs are continuing the pipeline of fresh, and organic products.
“We’re using two main sources,” Ashley Long said. “The first one would be Western Montana Growers Co-op. And then our other one is Charlie’s Produce, which is based out of the Northwest.”
What makes their store different is their absolute love of food, and how to prepare it.
“There’s a guy that owns a convenience store in an old Western and someone comes in and says ‘have you ever tried this product?. Like no, I’ve never tried it.’ We’re going to try everything and we’re probably going to give like recipe suggestions. And we try to pair food that’s in here each week so that there’s things that mesh well together and cook well together.” – Brock Long
Ashley says meeting people is a tremendous amount of fun.
“I really want to start being able to share recipes like Brock was saying. And I mean there’s just certain things that people haven’t even heard of. And then they come in here and then they ask questions. And it’s fun to have already experimented and made a meal with that and then share that with the person. And then they’re super excited about it.”
During a recent visit to the store, customers stopped in from around the valley, but also elsewhere in Montana, and Colorado, all appreciating the variety and unique offerings often not even available in Montana’s cities.
“It’s super fun to find out their background, why they’re visiting Phillipsburg,” Ashley says with enthusiasm. “And of course we have, you know, a huge array of locals. But it really is fun to have the tourists coming in and then finding out their stories. Finding out what made them decide to come into our store is also really exciting, and yeah, it’s fun.”
Ashley says with hopes of providing more healthy, grab-and-go foods for all those visitors.
“I think it would be amazing for us to be able to provide some type of grab-and-go foods for everyone that’s walking around town. I mean, they’re coming here and they’re doing all the fun things, but they also need to eat. And why not be able to use our fresh produce? Our local produce and create something for them?” – Ashley Long
The Longs really appreciate the Philipsburg Theater letting them use the lobby several days each week. But they’re actively looking for a larger location, with more kitchen and refrigeration. They’ll continue donating surplus to the food bank each week but are hoping for a spot with a kitchen and more refrigeration.
“But we are looking for a space that we can expand, have an actual kitchen in and then that allows us to expand what the Food Share is given back to the Community, allows us to grow and the sky’s the limit,” Brock relates. “We’re looking for a kitchen.”
Also hearing from more and more local farmers and producers. “I mean, that’s the ultimate goal. The more local the better.”
With their love of cooking and amazing ingredients around them, I ask how they decide what to have for dinner each night with all these tasty choices?
“It’s pretty awesome. “My parents are in town. We’ve cooked like the last six nights in a row so we might get pizza tonight,” Brock admits with a hearty laugh.
Philipsburg Food Share is one a growing number of local food co-ops and smaller non-profit, independent grocers that are serving Montana’s smaller communities.