Business Unusual: Opportunity & Crisis

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Shauntrice Martin is a visionary business owner, leading progressive change in her community and in the business world. Director and founder of #FeedTheWest, a food justice program sponsored by Black Lives Matter Louisville and Change Today, Change Tomorrow, Shauntrice studied food apartheid in Belize, Iceland, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, and across the United States.

Recently, she started Black Market KY to address food insecurity. Shauntrice has earned numerous awards including 2019 Louisville Forty Under 40, The Coalition of Black Excellence Impact Award, and Silicon Valley Business Journal 2017 Woman of Influence. Check out the first of this incredible three part interview with Shauntrice!

(Please note: this was recorded while Shauntrice was in transit, during her only available window of time. We recognize the sound quality is less than perfect, but felt her work and words were too important not to share. We did our best to clean up the sound so that everybody could benefit from her wisdom and vision!)

Read the Interview

Thank you for joining us. My name is Michelle Winnett, Vice President of Partners and Strategic Marketing at Ruby. I’m so delighted to be talking this afternoon with Shauntrice Feed the West in Louisville, Kentucky. Could you introduce yourself and maybe share a little bit about how Feed the West got started?

Shauntrice Martin:
Absolutely. I’m Shauntrice, I am the mom of one very amazing seven-year-old. I’ve been a volunteer with Change Today Change Tomorrow for almost a year, and that’s kind of how Feed the West started. We were passing out free food, as we usually do, to protestors, unhoused folks, single parents, elders in our community. While we were doing that at the beginning of June, essentially the Kroger closed in response to folks peacefully protesting the killing of David McAfee and the police leaving his body out in the streets. We saw Kroger close, they said they were closing indefinitely. Some of our elders had taken the city bus there or public transportation and without notice they didn’t have a way to get food, so we decided to start Feed the West just as a two-day emergency response program so that we could give folks food who needed. It’s a completely free program.

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah, it definitely hasn’t just been two days. It’s been almost three months. The reason we kept it going is because a lot of people were asking us for more access to food. Through Feed the West, we also make sure that there are healthy options, there are vegan and organic options, because the local Kroger and many other food marts in the area, in the West end, which is predominantly Black, they don’t have the fresh food option, they don’t have fresh produce.

Shauntrice Martin:
That’s how we started it, and like I said, it went from being a two-day emergency response program to being this three-month initiative that has really allowed us to connect more with community members and it has allowed us to make partnerships outside of just food, so we connect to housing through organizations, we connect to making sure folks have clothes and good education and supplies and things like that. It’s been a whirlwind for sure.

Michelle Winnett:
That’s amazing. Place is obviously incredibly important to your work, and I know you’ve traveled a lot, lived all over, but chose to settle back in Louisville. Can you speak about the importance of place to your work and vision?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah, I was born and raised in Louisville and I didn’t leave for good until after college. I got a job working as an intern in Trinidad and Tobago. It was great to be on an island, to be with other people. It was an amazing cultural exchange. I got to work on a project that centered around poverty and feminism, so that was really great. Then I got to work in DC at one of the juvenile detention facilities. I also got to lecture at Georgetown Law on my work at the juvenile detention facility, through one of my great friends, Elizabeth Jones, Dr. Elizabeth Jones, because she just got that PhD. From there, I ended up going to Baltimore and then to California, and I got to work in Iceland last year, which was amazing, as well as some other countries, but doing some similar work.

Shauntrice Martin:
When I was in Iceland, I thought about what do I want to do? It’s great to travel, I’ve been able to bring my son on a lot of these work trips, but what do I really want to do? I thought about what I needed the most when I was younger, which was access to food, access to clean water, those sorts of things, and I thought how can I be a person who supports that? Instead of just starting an organization, what I did initially was I decided I would take a year where I would just do a bunch of different things, like volunteer, have different jobs, consult.

Shauntrice Martin:
But yeah, after just searching around, it became clear to me that food was the thing I was most passionate about, so I connected with Cassia Herron and joined the Louisville grocery co-ops board, which has been wonderful. Again, I volunteered with Taylor. She was one of the organizations I first connected with through Change Today Change Tomorrow. I saw what she was doing with food and I was like, “Yes, this is exactly where I want to be. You’re all about food justice, you’re about equity, and you’re centering around what the community wants,” because a lot of nonprofits tend to just come up with an idea and go implement it instead of asking the community what they want or what projects they’re already working on and how we can amplify those. I was very inspired by Taylor and her vision for the organization, and of course, our children play together, which is a bonus.

Shauntrice Martin:
Being in Louisville was really important to me, one, because my family’s here, but two, because all my experiences and other countries and other states showed me ways things can go really right and ways things can go really wrong. I wanted to take that expertise and bring it back home because a lot of folks here are struggling and they’re parallel struggles to the ones I’ve seen in Oakland, in East Palo Alto and other places. I’m really passionate about making sure folks who look like me and folks who have been impoverished have an opportunity to utilize their skills and not just be whatever they need to be to pay the bills, but really to focus on their potential. I think one barrier to that can be food. Food insecurity is a serious barrier, so I’m passionate about making sure beyond just Feed the West that we have viable sustainable food options for folks in the West End.

Michelle Winnett:
That’s amazing. I personally have also thought a lot about sustainable food and sourcing and just I choose to eat vegan a lot of the time, and I’ve felt like it’s really expensive to do that. To eat healthy is way … To get a bag of apples is more expensive than 10 things of Kraft macaroni and cheese or something like that. It’s just infuriating.

Shauntrice Martin:
Right. I’ll say too, for us, in addition to, like you said, the price difference when you’re going between something organic or not organic, or even just going between, like you said, something unhealthy and something healthy, what we’ve also seen is just a lack of choices. I created the Bok Choy Project, and it just shows the disparities between Kroger locations in predominantly Black neighborhoods and predominantly white neighborhoods, here in Louisville specifically. We saw that there are some children who’ve never seen certain vegetables. They’ve never seen fresh okra or never seen bok choy or these other vegetables that for me, after living in California, is like, “Yeah, I know what that is.” Even living in Maryland, I helped run a grocery co-op there called The Glut, and so I got to see a rainbow of vegetables, both organic and conventional. My son has been able to grow up seeing all these different types of fruits. Jackfruit is something that has never been available in the Western grocery stores, but it’s available in others and I’ve been privileged to see and eat so many different things in different countries.

Shauntrice Martin:
We really want to make sure that folks, no matter if you’re poor or you’re wealthy, that you get more options. I think that’s a big barrier to health. In the West End, we have a lot of negative indicators for health disparities, and having access to a bigger variety of healthy foods can address that.

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