Fresh food market opens in Austin, offers local produce for west side residents

CHICAGO (WLS) -- "There's nothing like the west side of Chicago. It's the most unique, vibrant, weird, but completely awesome," said Liz Abunaw, a new business owner in the west side Austin neighborhood.

Abunaw moved to Chicago in 2012 to pursue an MBA from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. While determining where she would start her eventual food market, she came across Austin - a neighborhood that faced food-related challenges and opportunity.

"Austin is the second largest community area, population-wise, with almost 100,000 people," Abunaw said. "There's only three supermarkets in almost seven square miles."

After recognizing the severity of neighborhood food scarcity - especially for fresh, local vegetables and fruits - Abunaw set out to establish a local food market specifically serving the mostly black population of Austin. That's why Abunaw chose the name Forty Acres Fresh Market, a reference to the promise of reparations for freed slaves after the Civil War.

Forty Acres Fresh Market currently operates the second weekend of every month on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a pop-up space at 5051 W Chicago Ave.

"The ultimate vision is a convenient place where people can walk to in their neighborhood for those fill-in trips between the big pantry loads - as well as maybe some prepared foods," said Abunaw.
To offer prepared food at their temporary location, the market partners with local food stands. During the Friday of the June market, that partner was Chicago-based caterer Black Cat Kitchen.

"It's sometimes a struggle to get people to eat vegetables," said Alexis Thomas, owner of Black Cat Kitchen. "And I think Liz (Abunaw) has the shared vision of wanting people to eat good, healthy food."
Forty Acres Fresh is currently paid for through a combination of self-funding and an Adventure Capital Challenge grant from the Booth School of Business. Abunaw has also applied for a spate of small business, health and food grants to get through the rest of "start-up phase." Once that phase ends, the market will need to become a sustainable business running off its own revenue.

To reach that stability, Abunaw is working with a long-standing nonprofit to gain trust and resources in Austin, the Westside Health Authority.

Since its founding in 1988, Westside Health Authority has worked out of its Austin-based headquarters on everything from real estate development and public health initiatives to support for formerly incarcerated citizens. Now, the nonprofit is converting one of its recently acquired properties into a permanent home for Forty Acres Fresh Market.

"We're building her a spot in one of our buildings we just picked up down the street here at 5246 W. Chicago Ave," Kenya Williams, Executive Administrative Assistant for Westside Health Authority. "She's gonna go in there, and she's gonna have her own store."

For now, Abunaw is renting an open space right next door to a Westside Health Authority office. But she hopes their partnership and her pending permanent location will help lead to her ultimate goal.

"Food is just one of multiple businesses that people would like to have in their neighborhood that contribute to the quality of life and the community feel of where you live," Abunaw said. "I want to be a part of revitalizing that in this neighborhood."

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referenced a "venture challenge capital grant," which is in fact called an Adventure Challenge Capital grant.
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