Food deserts plague plenty of neighborhoods near and around the City of Chicago. Many of the Chicago neighborhoods are considered food deserts where affordable, healthy, and nutritional foods are hard to find. The Forty Acres Fresh Market plans to do its part to meet the Austin neighborhood’s needs by creating a local food market. This market will supply the community with fresh produce, meat, essential household items, and feature products from local vendors. Elizabeth “Liz” Abunaw is an entrepreneur and proprietor of Forty Acres Fresh Market.
Forty Acres Fresh Market started as a pop-up shop offering a variety of fruit and vegetable options. The fresh market idea was the result of an eye-opening trip to the west side of Chicago. Liz needed cash during this trip and realized the only option was a gas station or corner store ATM with outrageous fees attached. This neighborhood was void of a local pharmacy, banking center, or grocery store within walking distance of one of the city’s most populated areas. This was a life-changing experience for her and made her hyper-aware of the accessibility of food, banking, and health care in the north and south side communities. She liked the model created by Stanley’s in Lincoln Park, but unfortunately, they closed their doors in 2019. She often wondered why a store like Stanley’s was not located in other neighborhoods to provide accessible, fresh, low-cost produce. The Austin community’s nonexistent essential resources sparked a fire in Liz to bring about a change. She bought wholesale produce equipment, found volunteers, and marketed the pop-up market. The very 1st pop-up was the Austin community, and around 30 people showed up.
The customers felt the product was good, priced well, and excited that it was black-owned. They all asked, “when is the next one?” Unlike most small groceries, who carry limited options, Forty Acres prides themselves on offering their customers various options. The goal is to have a full-size selection that rivaled some of the larger grocery store chains. The following month, she held another pop-up in Maywood, IL. Liz had help from one of the village trustees who helped her market the event. This time 100 people showed up. Liz decided to take it a step further and utilize the “Boom Box” temporary retail space in Austin. The retail pop-up was a 30-day pilot to see if Forty Acres Fresh Market could sustain an actual store. During this pilot program, the fresh market was open daily and saw an average of 10 customers a day. The biggest challenge was with the community and their low expectations of quality products and thriving grocery stores. This resulted in Liz’s commitment to building relationships and engagement within the Austin community.
The Forty Acres Fresh Market got the attention of the Westside Health Authority. They will partner with Forty Acres Fresh Market to create an actual brick and mortar market. The Austin residents must see this pop-up new market progress to a real grocery store. Forty Acres Fresh Market purchased a 10,000 sq ft building along a significant corridor back in October 2020. Once you secure a building, then you can move forward with finding an architect, designer, general contractor, and building permits from the City of Chicago. It is critical for the Forty Acres Fresh Market team to hire Austin residents. Seeing the build-out will help the residents feel like they are part of the process, people will feel vested in the success of the market, and keep money circulating with the Austin community. The idea of setting up a fresh market in the Austin neighborhood is essential to reviving this community. The team expects the new market will open within the next 12 to 15 months if everything happens on schedule and there are no additional setbacks due to COVID-19.
In the meantime, you can help by becoming a customer or purchasing a box as a gift. For more information, visit www.fortyacresfreshmarket.com and follow them on all social media platforms @fortyacresfreshmarket