Liz Abunaw, originally from upstate New York, worked in produce sales for General Mills and came to study business and social entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago in 2012. She wanted to see businesses bringing real solutions to social problems — not do-gooding as a public relations act. Taking severance pay after a layoff at Microsoft, she decided to act on her vision to sell healthy food at reasonable prices, and started her own LLC called Forty Acres. On Sunday Feb. 18 she was working her experimental popup produce market at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Austin.
The idea for Forty Acres came when I took the Chicago Avenue bus over to Austin for an errand. I got off, looked around, saw no major drugstore or grocery. I live in West Town, where nobody looks like me, but I can find anything I want — but not here on the West Side where everybody looks like me.
I got help at community meetings, West Side Ministers and New Leaders Council, Malcolm Crawford had us at Sankofa for our first market at Menard and Chicago. Aldermen Chris Taliaferro and Jason Ervin helped us get out flyers.
People showed up and showed out! I had to shop for more greens — people always want them. You have to do popups on consecutive days to sell all of your produce, so St. Paul Lutheran School Principal Glenn Cuck helped us set up on Sunday. Resident University of Chicago chef Rahim Muhammad came to demonstrate black bean, squash and tomato tacos. My friend Ari Bradley from Clarion Consulting advised me. Chicago International Produce Market at Pilsen showed me good deals.
With these popup stores, I’m learning how it works and where the demand is. We display everything in plastic crates for the feel of a real grocery store. My goal is a brick and mortar, reasonably priced market with good fresh produce. We’ll be posting news about future popups on Facebook and Instagram.