By Carly Schorman, December 2020 issue
For lots of city folk looking to put a positive spin on the pandemic, maybe it’s time we venture forth from our urban settings to explore other arenas of the world, outdoor arenas. And the Phoenix upstarts known as Blue Plate Collective are here to help both nature newbies and experienced campers alike as they set forth on outdoor adventures.
Okay, just to be upfront, I am not a camper. I mean, even Thoreau had a cabin, right? So please save your judgments. Besides, Blue Plate Collective can help anyone earn that outdoor merit badge. That’s because this local business offers everything from camping kit rentals to full experience packages.
Blue Plate Collective is the brainchild of two outdoor enthusiasts, and partners in all things, Jency Rogers and Adele LaVoie. From their shared love of nature, Blue Plate Collective began to organically take shape to all our benefit. If you’ve been thinking about taking up camping, but don’t have the equipment, a kit rental from BPC offers easy access to everything you need, including tents, sleeping bags, coolers, and more.
However, if you’re anything like me and don’t consider pitching a tent part of the fun, the Blue Plate Collective crew can take care of all that, too. Just sign up for one of their Experiences. These once-a-month events take place around Arizona and include more than just the camping kit. You’ll want to make sure to sign up early because spots are limited, and they get claimed fast.
I had the opportunity to speak to Adele LaVoie and Jency Rogers about exploring the great outdoors, camping newbies, and what Blue Plate Collective has in store.
Echo: So, tell me of your love of camping. I assume you really like camping, right?
When we first started dating, one of the early text messaging topics brought up by Adele was, “Do you like camping?” To which, Jency answered, “Duh”.
Adele: My love of camping and the outdoors in general comes from my childhood and was passed down to me from my parents. My family spent many weekends at the river or the lake while growing up in Arizona. Our summers held at least three camping trips per summer break (one of which was always around my June birthday).
Jency: When you grow up with a dad who’s a scoutmaster and eagle scout, you learn a thing or two about being outdoors. Camping is relaxing.
Encounter any dangerous wilderness run-ins? In my personal experience, they usually end less dramatically than one might expect.
When we camp up north, we will hear the elk making the strangest noises all night towards the end of summer. We are sure to alert our campers to the sounds they may hear in the night! Other than that, just birds getting into the chips or the bread that’s out during the day. We don’t leave anything out that’s not actively being eaten anymore (also a tip we give our campers).
Adele: In all my years of camping, I have seen a bear in Arizona once while backpacking. The bear just ran away when it heard us coming, we made extra noises to be sure it stayed gone.
Jency: I’ve only read about them or seen them on TMZ (knocks on firewood).
Starting a business during a pandemic seems like a bold move, but Blue Plate Collective offers people something different that feels very relevant right now. When did you first conceive of Blue Plate Collective and how did it come together?
Adele: Oh gosh, this a kind of a long story, but I will try to shorten it up!
The idea came in a round-about sort of way. Initially, we were starting a catering business with my brother in 2019. The catering concept was to focus on outdoor dining such as backyard parties, events in the park, or even destination dinner parties in National Parks or at the lakes. Guess we were ahead of the pandemic curve on that one!
Jency and I were to be in charge of the setup of tables, chairs, dinnerware, etc. while my brother took care of the food. We slowly started buying all of the things we would need for this at the end of summer of 2019, we figured we would be ready to launch around summer 2020, initially.
Since summertime is not ideal for backyard parties in Phoenix, we thought we would start by promoting our concept with some pop-up dinner parties on the Mogollon Rim (about 30 minutes outside Payson). And, since it’s about a two-hour drive from Phoenix, we came up with the idea to offer a “camping add-on” to their dinner experience. We purchased a few basics like tents, chairs, airbeds for this but had no intention of going all-out for the camp setup portion of the experience. Then the pandemic hit … people weren’t gathering or throwing parties, weddings were being canceled, and they certainly didn’t want to drive two hours to dine at the same table as strangers. We sidelined the whole idea.
Eventually, it became apparent that people were interested in being in the outdoors, so we expanded on the camping idea. The name “Blue Plate” stuck around as we planned on using the blue enamel camp style plates for our catering setups, and they are still being used in the dining kit for the camping kits.
Jency: Yeah, I guess you can say it kind of happened organically. I had lost my job due to the pandemic and we spend so much time camping so it just made sense to want to share our love of camping with others and why not make it a business?
Is this your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
Adele: No, I actually own a hair salon, French Method Salon, that I started in 2012. I’m always trying to come up with new entrepreneurial ideas and am so happy to be adding Blue Plate Collective to my repertoire.
Jency: No, I started an organic cleaning business in 2008 for a few years. I have recently re-started the cleaning business, Johnson House Cleaning, now with an emphasis on sanitization and organization.
In addition to renting out camping kits and other supplies, Blue Plate Collective also offers “experiences” where campers can get the suppliers delivered and even set up on certain dates, like a fancy camping retreat. I saw that November is already sold out and I would expect your December event is filling up fast. Do you have more events lined up for 2021? And, if so, when can we expect announcements?
While the camping kits are available to go anywhere and anytime you like (pickup on a Thursday and return on a Sunday or Monday), we do offer a monthly camp experience at a location and date of our choosing. Not all camp experiences include setup automatically, but most have the option to select it so that all the camper has to do is show up with food and clothes.
We limit the experiences to four campsites, so they have indeed sold out in October and November so far. We are currently picking out dates and locations for our 2021 experiences and they will be listed on our website [www.blueplatecollective.com] and on our Facebook page [www.facebook.com/blueplatecollective], and before we & will after we also announce new dates on Instagram [@blueplatecollective]. January and February dates and locations will be announced later in November.
Now that a lot of new people are embracing the Great Outdoors, how does Blue Plate Collective assist these neophytes?
We have made it our mission to be sure that we give direction and guidance to novice campers. Being outdoor enthusiasts, it can be hard to let newcomers into our sacred space … but if they are coming into it anyway, we might as well have a hand in how they are doing it. Our website and Facebook pages offer tips and information, but we take it a step further when you book with us. We send informational emails and packing lists, and the kits come with printed instructions as reminders to be sure our campers are not only being safe for themselves, but that they are respecting nature. Longtime campers abide by some unspoken rules, so we have to let the newbies in on them. We are happy to get to share our experience and the joy of being (and sleeping) outside.
Any key pointers for camping newbies who don’t want to be total jerks in this wondrous, new world?
I think the main pointer would be: don’t be a jerk! Be respectful and aware of your neighbors, don’t be noisy and rowdy. Be respectful of nature, don’t leave trash behind and always be sure your fire is tended to and put completely out. Don’t camp, hike, or drive in areas that aren’t designated to do so.
Always take your trash with you and put your food away when you’re away from camp or in bed. This helps ensure that wildlife isn’t attracted to the area, which can be bad not only for campers but for the wildlife as well.
Now, the hard hitting questions … What are some of your favorite camping activities? Ghost stories? Is it S’mores?
First and foremost, we like to enjoy a beer as soon as we land at our campsite! It’s one of those “unspoken rules” for camping. Aside from that, we love to play Yahtzee (which we include in the game kit for our Blue Plate Campers) and take walks or bike rides. Honestly, though, the best camping activity is just camping itself. We love setting it all up (that’s helpful for what we offer, lol) and sitting and enjoying our temporary home in the outdoors.
What are some of your favorite spots to go camping?
We love to go camping along the Mogollon Rim during the summer, especially when the afternoon storms roll in. In the winter, we enjoy camping at the Superstition Mountains. We have started our camping experiences with our favorite locations in 2020, and will likely be coming back to them, but look forward to adding new locations throughout 2021. We are thinking about adding a springtime kayaking camp trip where the campgrounds are accessible only by boat, as well as a few Tucson area trips. Arizona has so much to offer.
Favorite camping food? Is it S’mores?
Confession, we don’t really like S’mores, but we do offer them as a food choice when you join one of our experiences. We offer campers to select from either a veggie taco ingredients kit, premade breakfast burritos (veg and vegan options available), or a S’mores kit. Our personal favorite camping foods are grilled veggie tacos with elote, and mini cherry pies for a sweet.
Jency: Not a s’mores fan! I will say this … prep your camping food as much as possible. Makes it easier to cook outdoors.
I just want to mention that we took a brief pause in our conversation for a camping trip you had planned because I love that. So, can you tell me a little about this recent trip? Where did you go? What did you do?
We just did a weekend trip at Canyon Lake Marina and Campground with two friends. This trip wasn’t officially a work trip, but it was good for recon as we made sure to take note of campsite numbers we might like to use in the future. We brought our kayaks, and our friends brought their paddle boards and we hit the lake. We made them our favorite camp dinner, grilled veggie tacos, and hung out by our propane powered fire ring.
Anything I didn’t bring up that I should have brought up?
We would like to let everyone know that we take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, and between the two of us we have a lot of knowledge and experience with cleaning and sanitation. We fully disassemble our camping kits for cleaning/sanitizing between uses, and while setting up the hosted camp experiences, we do not enter the tents without a mask on. We want to encourage safe, outdoor experiences and are conscious of our part in that as well.
Jency: … And bury your poop.