Cities across the country are faced with the challenge of bringing healthy foods to those living downtown or in lower income communities. Food deserts, areas without a grocery store close by, limit a resident’s options to whatever is available at a convenience store or gas station. And in very few cases do these locations carry fresh produce and other healthy items.
Allison DeHonney is looking to fix this problem in Buffalo, particularly in the city’s East Side neighborhood, through her company Urban Fruits & Veggies. Urban Fruits & Veggies was one of last year’s winners of THE PITCH Business Competition for women and minority entrepreneurs. What started out as a company focused on urban farms has expanded its reach into farmers’ markets, health education classes, and a mobile produce market. She is also planning to build greenhouses on Buffalo’s East Side in the next year.
Learn more about Allison and how her company is bringing nutritious foods and education to those who need it most in today’s Founder Friday!
How did your startup, well, start up?
The idea for the business wasn’t mine. Someone in city government realized the need for access to healthy fruits and vegetables in underserved communities. However, today the business doesn’t look much like the initial plan. Prior to opening the business, I did 4-6 months of research (as I was working full-time) and setting up the infrastructure – then I opened. We started with the urban farm.
What do you do? Your startup?
We are an urban agriculture business. We have an urban farm, mobile produce market, nutrition education, and urban farming programing for students in grades 4-12. We recently launched three healthy products.
When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?
After my research, but really when my phone started ringing and people would say, “I heard about your work. Can you come to this event?” Or “how can we partner?”
What has been the biggest accomplishment for your startup to-date?
Being a stakeholder in the “Bailey Green Project,” which is a neighborhood revitalization project taking place on the East Side of Buffalo. My company will build hydroponic greenhouses, a community garden, and a wellness center. We have been fundraising for about a year and a half now.
Goals for the next year? Three years?
My one-year goal is to have the greenhouses constructed and fully functioning with staff that is putting out good, healthy products for our community. The three-year goal is to replicate what we are doing with the Bailey Green Project in other areas of the city and perhaps even in other cities!
This is my home. Erie County is one of the sickest counties in NY State. The lack of knowledge surrounding how food affects one’s health is astounding. We help to change that one farmers’ market at a time, one customer at a time!
How do you do it? What drives you?
I work hard everyday. I have a great team of supportive folks that surround me. This includes family, friends, and staff. I have been so fortunate to get help where I need it; I always ask for help. I try to surround myself with really smart people. I read a lot! Smart people are not intimidated by other smart people – they understand that it is a recipe for success! What drives me is the continuous positive response from all those that we touch, from the insurance companies to my customers that I meet at farmers’ markets and wellness events.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
The work is hard, the psychological challenges are not to be ignored (a bit of a roller-coaster mentally), but put the work in and success will follow! Enjoy the journey!