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JBLM couple open biz

Corner veggie stand in Steilacoom now open

Fresh Picked Foods is the brainchild of a Joint Base Lewis-McChord couple. Courtesy photo

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There's a new little corner shop in the sleepy town of Steilacoom. Fresh Picked Foods isn't your typical quick-e-mart: while you can buy some of the standard mini mart fare like soda, candy bars and chips, the veteran and servicemember masterminds behind the shop are looking to focus in on health, sustainability, and community in their business endeavor.

Shop owner Crystal Baker is an Army veteran, released in 2007 when injuries sustained in Iraq were too great for her to continue her military career.  Her husband, shop co-owner Sgt. Kirk Baker with 14th Engineer Battalion, is still technically in the Army, though he'll get out on terminal leave Aug. 17, just in time for the official Grand Opening date of Aug. 20.

Injuries sustained in Iraq drove Crystal toward her holistic lifestyle, while health concerns drove Kirk's decision to exit the military.  "He was not planning on getting out," Crystal explained.  But she says the long work hours took a physical toll on Kirk's body, "just drained him ... We decided the Army is no longer for us and so then he started doing all the transition stuff." She paused and added, "we did it jointly."

When the pair found the entrepreneur class, she said, "we knew we wanted to do a business." They toyed around with the type of business, and after three days of thought, they landed on the idea of a produce store. That egg of an idea has hatched to a full-grown brick-and-mortar establishment where neighbors can walk to get affordable produce and other basic items like sustainably farmed milk and eggs, and locally sourced baked goods.

Produce is generally organic, though it might not all come with a plastic "Organic" label and bright packaging, since it is sourced from local, small farms. Costs are kept low because essentially, the Bakers are getting the food "from small farms that are doing it because they love it."  As the shop grows, Crystal sees it as a place to support collaborative, healthy living, "trying to bring the community together with food."

Crystal explained that through the "Soft Open" period, the shop has only been open Thursday through Sunday, allowing the couple to slowly add inventory as they make money.  "Right now it only supports itself," she said, adding, "all businesses are like that."  While the couple learned basic advice and guidance on opening a business from transition services at JBLM, she said, "There is no program that will finance you ... there is no golden cash cow.  We thought it would be like VA loans for homes ..." but it wasn't.  

The couple opted to deplete their savings to open the shop, so that they wouldn't be indebted to a bank for their business venture. "Our entire savings account is on a corner right now," she said with a slight laugh. But she also says the process has been a smooth one.  "The town supported us," she recalled. "You hear all these horror stories about opening a business, but I don't know if we've had a bump."

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