Our free and inclusive Fruit Belt Pedal Party this coming Saturday, October 17th, comes with support from the African Heritage Food Co-op (AHFC), with which we’ve partnered since 2016 to offer produce and refreshments at our stops sold by local youth through our Kiddie Kickstand program. Our roundtrip ride will meet at the AHFC’s future grocery store at 238 Carlton in the Fruit Belt – and since we’ll be there and are both aligned with the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, both upstart organizations will give a presentation on their progress before we roll out at 2pm on an 11-mile route that will include locations of note to AHFC.

Learn more about AHFC at the ride as well as below from its founder, Alex Wright.

What inspired you to create the AHFC?

A couple things.

First, one of the biggest things affecting African-Americans, particularly in inner-cities, is health outcomes – we’re dying more from the fork than the bullet. So I wanted to start something that not only gives access to fresh and healthy food, but also ownership of it – that way, if we do this right, we’ll never have food access issues again.

Two, it had to be a co-op for it to go further than myself. As I was studying African-American movements in history, I noticed that even when a movement got off the ground and was going well, as soon as the head of it gets assassinated – whether literally or in terms of character – the movement vanishes. I wanted to create something bigger than myself, for the community.

African Heritage Food Co-op leader Alex Wright addresses Slow Rollers on Richlawn Ave, as the newly-formed AHFC Kickstand Kids sell healthy drinks and snacks on the first ride of 2017 – photo by Clay Davies

How did you develop the Kiddie Kickstand program at Slow Roll?

I wanted to do more entrepreneurial programs, especially with young people, and the opportunity to sell goods at Slow Roll stops fit that.

We developed it with help from our staff member Fredricka White, and also my mom was a big part of it, and the kids really loved it – it empowers them to be their own bosses and make their own money. And it’s funny, because these kids have been smart with their money. We’d give em a lil bit every Monday, then a lump sum before school, and they bought school clothes, glasses – I thought the kids would blow it on candy or sneakers, but they’ve been very responsible, it’s been exciting to see.

Beyond the suspension of the Kiddie Kickstand program since Slow Roll isn’t currently having stops on our rides, how has the pandemic impacted AHFC?

For one, the pandemic has affected people being able to eat. I think it’s really shown a lotta folks the message we had about lack of access and ownership, really brought it to life. And because we’ve been doing this before the pandemic, a lotta folks reached out to us to help make sure folks were fed, and fed with healthy, fresh produce.

While it affected us negatively in the store at first, it affected us positively in our business as a whole through our mobile markets and delivery business. And the revenue we’ve been able to make from that, we’ve put that back into the Niagara Falls store – we just put $50,000 in new refrigeration, along with new doors, security systems, and a new layout, so we’ll be excited to open back up to the public in the next month or so.

And we’ve been able to pay architects and other professionals in creation of the plans for Carlton, and we’re excited to share them with folks at the Fruit Belt Pedal Party.

AHFC has made much progress at 238 Carlton – including a new roof – since we stopped there for an update last June

How does the work of AHFC align with that of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust?

It’s all about people; all about creating something that no one can swoop in and sell, or take away; something that brings in revenue to the community and those who live there. We want people to control and benefit economically and otherwise from things that are created in their neighborhoods, and so we hope that the Co-op and Land Trust can be a beacon for what’s possible – barbershops, clothing stores, they can be community-owned. Everything we buy should be owned by us – we should benefit from that. I’m hoping that people can see what we’re doing, be inspired to be part of it, and build and create things of their own.

Fruit Belt Community Land Trust director and Slow Roll Buffalo board member India Walton will again address the crowd at the Fruit Belt Pedal Party

And how do you see AHFC in alignment with Slow Roll?

That depends on how you look at Slow Roll. The way I look at Slow Roll, and I think the intention of Slow Roll, it’s about people coming together, being healthier, connecting community, getting to know their city and neighbors. And I think those are all things that the Co-op is about.

We’re about¬†us over I. We’re about being healthy. We’re about real connection with the community and where we are as a community. And I think when you look at it like that, we’re very aligned in our principles. Granted, can people misuse anything? Yes, of course, but we’re not focusing on the 10% of the people who wanna come and make a mess of things; we’re focused on the 90% who wanna get together and have a healthy community.

What should attendees expect at the Fruit Belt Pedal Party?

We’re excited to introduce what we’re doing to a lot of folks, and we know that people are curious – they see this building, they know we own it, and they wanna know what’s happening. We wanna set aside any fears they have, and we want them to get as excited about the new possibilities as we are, both on Carlton and at the Edison Ave garden where the ride will stop.

Edison is beautiful – it’s a lot that was donated by M&T Bank to the African Heritage Economic Initiative, which is a nonprofit focused on self sufficiency in the inner-city through economics. We brought in organic soil to grow on that land, and so far we’ve grown corn, collards, and a medley of herbs. Our farm manager Ivory Mullen does an excellent job cultivating this space where community members can come help and receive a harvest. Some will be given to the Co-op for our free bags what we do, and a lot is also used by the neighbors on Edison. It’s very exciting for people to see that and be part of that.

I think every neighborhood should have a garden like this, to help with food insecurity. What we’ve seen with Covid, when people are not eating locally, sometimes you have trouble getting goods from Florida, or Georgia, due to transportation faux pas and what have you – but when it’s a cool walk down the street to take it off the tree or dig out of the ground, everybody can eat.

We’re excited about seeing Edison be part of the growth and change revolution in our community; evolution isn’t all marches and lofty speeches – revolution is the actual work behind the scenes to build stuff that’s gonna better our community.

How can people get involved with AHFC?

They can call 573-1844 or email ahfcvolunteer@gmail.com and tell us you wanna volunteer. Ivory will have a signup at Edison on the ride. They can let us know what they like to do Рwe need help with everything from books and grant-writing to construction, to help us get these buildings in good repair.

We also need people who are gonna be consistent and committed. A lotta times, folks come in hot for a week or month then fall away – that’s tough.

We also need people who understand what it’s like to work in a cooperative environment, where it’s not just top down – share ideas, do some of your own legwork, really come in and roll up your sleeves to find how to help, not just stand around and wait to be pointed in some direction.

And as always, as is our motto – anything less than ownership is unacceptable.