The Polynesian-word “mana” evokes “the powers of nature embodied.” In other words, “supernatural” — as proclaimed by the signage welcoming grocery shoppers to MANA Foods’ new location in Carbondale. Independently, the word also has biblical roots meaning “nourishment from God.”
The goal of MANA Foods, as stated by store manager Sotantar Anderson, is “to put something in your life that connects you back to the place where you’re standing.”
MANA Foods is operated by the local nonprofit Adi Shakti Ashram. The store opened in March 2018, carrying forth the mission of Carbondale’s Dandelion Market, which disbanded shortly after moving from Main Street to Highway 133, next to Rhumba Girl Liquor.
At their new location between Tortilleria La Roca and the Dollar Tree, also along Highway 133, MANA Foods enjoys triple the amount of space as before and even designated part of the building for yoga and meditation.
“Emptiness has its place in all of this,” said Anderson. “So we have this empty space in the middle of a grocery store,” she laughed.
Anderson grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley and has advocated for local food for decades. As a former member of the Dandelion Market’s board of directors and an organic farmer, she saw maintaining a local food outlet and health food store in Carbondale as crucial.
“To be able to get back into it and see it succeed and see this local food thing just grow and grow,” she said, “It’s just absolutely amazing. It’s really like the fulfillment of where I started.”
At the outset of the pandemic, MANA Foods saw a spike in sales as restaurants were closed. “Our goal was to stay open, serve people, be there,” Anderson said. And, “a crazy amount of money poured in,” so the nonprofit saved it.
With the cancellation of Dandelion Day in 2020, MANA Foods hosted plant starter sales that drew a long line of customers spaced up 133. The store maintained a personal choice stance from the beginning of the pandemic, which Anderson partially attributes to their success. “When we are at, or less than, what our constitutional structure has allowed us,” she said, “everyone suffers, everyone and everything.”
At their new location, sunlight pours in through several large windows, warming the wood floors. For over a decade, Wine Time — a German delicatessen and liquor store — filled the space with glistening bottles of alcohol from around the world. Sigrid and Rudy Pieper sold the store in 2021 to return to Europe and its new owners, Kiko and Graciela Peña of Sopris Liquor & Wine, closed it soon after.
“Kiko has been very generous with us,” said Adi Shakti Ashram board member Richard Vottero, explaining that they were given the remaining few months on the Peñas’ lease, plus shelving and refrigerators.
At several stages, Anderson was among citizens protesting the new grocery store development along Highway 133. Despite those efforts, Crystal River Marketplace LLC eventually received approval from Carbondale trustees for what now — perhaps ironically — faces MANA Foods across the highway.
“I’m a direct result of how much people didn’t like City Market,” said Anderson, who is glad to offer an alternative.
She admires the young farmers and generations of ranchers keeping local food relevant. “It’s like, the greatest adventure that there is: to be involved in what these creative generations have done around food.”
Beyond food, MANA Foods also carries locally-produced items like body creams, teas and tinctures. “Dandelion Day is amazing, but it’s one day a year,” so Anderson makes local “value-added” products available year-round, promoting Carbondale’s creative industries.
“Health will go on and freedom will go on … the creative expression of humanity doesn’t yield, it just doesn’t yield to limitation,” she said. “When you go toward what’s healthier for the Earth, it pays off. It pays off for everybody.”