The connections between income, food, and public health is unmistakably clear. How these systems continually fail our disadvantaged communities is even clearer. Around 2 million households in the United States don’t have access to a car and live more than a mile away from a grocery store. In Minnesota, one out of three children ages 2 – 5 are served by the Women and Infant Children (WIC) Program, which provides assistance for income-eligible pregnant or nursing families. And, while kids are more likely to adopt healthy eating habits when they observe them in the home, nearly half of children in lower-income urban areas are overweight or obese.
Local corner stores are a source of food for many in urban areas, but traditionally have less variety, higher prices, and lower quality of fresh produce compared to full-service grocery stores. Combined with an abundance of cheap and sugar- or salt-laden foods, making healthy choices is a challenge plaguing these communities and further perpetuating systemic and long-term inequalities.
Growing a Successful Business Model
Demetria Fuller and Adam Pruitt experienced this environment firsthand in their North Minneapolis neighborhoods. While working at Project Sweetie Pie, a North Minneapolis urban garden and community development organization, they began thinking about ways to make their local corner stores healthier. Together, they worked with non-profits, faculty and students at the University of St. Thomas, and the Minneapolis Health Department and discovered corner stores didn’t have a produce distributor that could provide cheap, fresh produce in small quantities.
From this realization, Demetria and Adam founded Brightside Produce, a service that buys fresh produce wholesale, delivers to multiple Minneapolis corner stores, and sells the remaining food to University outlets through a “Buyers Club” program. The model allows Brightside to provide healthy produce to urban outlets at wholesale cost while operating as a self-sustaining business model independent of grant funding.
Since the effort began in 2014, Brightside Produce has operated every week for the last four years, services more than 20 neighborhood stores in Minneapolis, and has since expanded to San Diego in collaboration with San Diego State University. To date, it is one of the nation’s only financially sustainable business models for distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to small stores in underserved urban neighborhoods.
And the buyer response has been enthusiastic. Sales to stores have doubled in the last two years and it is estimated that Brightside provides fresh produce for 4,000 people in low-income Minneapolis neighborhoods. “People appreciate what we are doing,” Demetria said. “Sometimes people come up to our delivery truck and buy a mango or some bananas for themselves or their families. It’s nice.”
It is nice. And, if that wasn’t enough, did I mention that Demetria and Adam founded Brightside when they were 16? Years old.
Putting the “Courageous” in Courageously Innovating
Demetria and Adam were nominated by food activist and Project Sweetie Pie Founder Michael Chaney, whose dedication and passion has revolutionized food justice issues in the Twin Cities. The nomination, riddled with compliments like “overcoming adversity,” “integrity,” “leadership,” and “collaborative partnerships,” describes a passion, empathy, and perseverance uncharacteristic of not only young people, but most people. Reading their accomplishments, it’s easy to forget they won’t be able to rent a car for several more years. But they wouldn’t be winners by just being innovative. Make no mistake, these young people have guts.
The courageous nature of this work is a huge reason why we’re so excited and proud to recognize these incredible innovators. Combined with their work ethic and social skills, they negotiate across wide spectrums of cultural backgrounds, navigate the demands of running a business, and bring communities closer together on a daily basis. They are unafraid to face adversity. In fact, they seem to thrive on it. “Being able to work on Brightside together has pushed me to be more thoughtful, open-minded, and encouraged me to work on my communications skills,” reflected Demetria. Adam shares a similar sentiment: “I want to solve problems and make a difference. BrightSide has helped me think about the world as an entrepreneur.”
Like true innovators, these two won’t stay put for long. Demetria is planning on attending culinary school and becoming a chef. Adam has set his sights on college and pursuing a business degree. So, thank these courageous innovators while you still can, support their work, and be inspired by their dedication to healthier and more equitable communities. We at Environmental Initiative are, and we couldn’t be happier to celebrate it.
Celebrating Demetria & Adam
Our ceremony to honor Demetria, Adam, and six additional awardees will be on May 23 where we’ll celebrate the amazing state-wide work that’s benefitting our environment, economies, and communities.