Brahm Ahmadi is co-founder and executive director of People's Grocery, a nonprofit organization founded in West Oakland, Calif., in 2002 that works to transform inner-city food systems. With a van that serves as a mobile market, Ahmadi began bringing fresh fruits and vegetables into one of the nation's most persistent " food deserts." People's Grocery also provides nutrition-education programs to improve people's food choices and food-preparation knowledge. In addition, it runs an urban agricultural program, teaching inner-city residents how to garden or farm and later sell their crops. Its latest program is the Grub Box, a market basket of fresh produce from its farm that is sold at a discount to West Oakland residents (with a focus on using food stamps for healthy food) and at a markup to economically able fans of the program. " It enables communities that had not previously been connected to begin supporting each other," Ahmadi says.
Ahmadi is also executive director of the North Oakland Land Trust, which dedicates land in North Oakland for community gardening. He's a founding board member of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, a member of the Community Economic Development Steering Committee of the Community Food Security Coalition and a planning fellow for the Roots of Change Fund, an initiative to create a sustainable food system for California by 2030.
What was your inspiration when you were getting started? I grew up in a low-income, urban neighborhood in Los Angeles and after college moved to Oakland—a community of color that had a real issue around food access. That was the real motivator for me to be able to connect the health and economic needs of our communities. The more I learned about [the public health] connection to diet, the more I became interested in creating a social venture model that could increase neighborhoods' access to healthy food, and support economic development there by creating jobs.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? I really enjoy the challenge of trying to come up with a business model that can solve the problem of access in the inner city, and the endless opportunity for creativity and innovation.
What's next for you? The mobile market is not sufficient to address the food gap. We will incubate a for-profit grocery store through the nonprofit. We are looking to expand the agricultural aspects, and also looking at creating a food-leadership and job-training program to bring people of diverse ethnic backgrounds into food retailing.
If Ben & Jerry's named a flavor after you, what would it be? It would have to have ‘mixed up' in the name. I'm a complete global nut. I'm originally from Iran, then lived in Iowa and later Los Angeles. They're all part of who I've become.
If you had one piece of advice for naturals retailers, what would it be? Pay attention to what's happening with demographic change, particularly with the [Hispanic] " new majority" —that'll have a significant effect on what the food market looks like. The smart companies will get ahead of the curve.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 12