Two Black farmers are addressing food insecurity in Sunnyside, an area that has limited access to fresh food. The pair opened a grocery store to provide healthy food options to tackle the food disparities in low-income food desert communities.
The Fresh Houwse Grocery Store is located on 5039 Reed Road, and was founded by Ivy Walls and Jeremy Peaches to provide fresh food, produce, and everyday essentials to residents in Sunnyside. The neighborhood is a low-income area that's been deemed a food desert by the United States Department of Agriculture USDA. The store opened in November of last year after a study in 2021 by the University of Houston revealed inequities when it comes to lettuce.
"Food in low-income neighborhoods like ours, Sunnyside and South Park had higher levels of gastrointestinal bugs found in the salad mix, versus those in higher income neighborhoods and more affluent neighborhoods, salad mixes found there," said Ivy Walls.
To bring the idea to life, a community fundraiser was held that raised $27,000 in seven days and a grant from a philanthropist in the state was used to renovate the familiar space. Walls and Peaches grew up in Sunnyside and attended Prairie View A&M University, but aside from Fresh Houwse, the duo is no stranger to business. Walls owns the Ivy Leaf Farms and Peaches owns Fresh life Organics. Walls said she knew the two wanted to do something after the UH study.
"We really saw the need for our community to have access to fresh produce,” she said "And not only fresh produce, but to have the education of farmers and to know your farmer and really push for a sustainable food system."
A report by the National Institute on Minority Health Disparities showed 20% of Black/African-American households were food insecure at some point in 2021.
As community members are shopping, they can find a range of items from fruit such as watermelon, pineapples, oranges, to bell peppers, sweet potatoes, fresh pickles, seasonings, and bread. The owners source a lot of their products from other black farmers which started from a concept called the Black Farmer Box.
"We started during the pandemic, which was a way for Black farmers to get their produce sold because the farmers market is not always the best avenue for selling produce, especially if you’re not in a more affluent area," said Walls. " A farmer would take 14 cabbages to the farmers market, only sell two, you have 12 left over, we’ll buy the 12, we’ll put them in a box, package them, and get them out in the community. "
Many of the residents in Sunnyside do not have a vehicle and a grocery store is more than a mile away. Walls said without that access, community members are forced to settle for unhealthy options which is why the store wants to incorporate education lessons.
"We’ve had some education events," she said. "Our goal is to have Saturday education courses for folks to come out and really activate education spaces on the weekends, and get the kids involved early on."
She said the community has embraced the store since opening.
"They’re really excited," said Walls. "It’s like, oh man, finally, and the different shopping experience that we offer here, you walk in, it’s cool. We have great greeters, the people that work here live in the neighborhood – it's like I live off of this street, and they’re like, oh, man, my grandma does too – it’s a community experience."
Walls said she hopes the concept can be adopted into other food desert areas throughout the city – building a food-system that's community dependent.
"Our goal is to create the system in other neighborhoods because we don’t want it to be a person dependent thing," she said. "We could put a Fresh Houwse in Acres Homes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a community operated agreement – I think for us it's to really hone down on what it means to build a food system and then expand from there – we can pop up a million Fresh Houwses', but it doesn’t change the fact that we are systematically broken."
Fresh Houwse is open Wednesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.