The wait is over. Construction has now begun for the brick-and-mortar version of Forty Acres Fresh Market, an independent Black-woman-owned grocery business in Austin. Meanwhile the daily and weekly delivery service and continued popups continue to be available.
The physical store has been years in the making. Forty Acres has been on the West Side for a long while – as a pop-up, for delivery and at farmers markets. “To finally make it to this point (of actual construction) it makes everything feel more real,” said founder Liz Abunaw. “There’s a lot of people to thank. This was not a one-woman effort — there’s a lot of people involved.”
On Nov. 15 Abunaw and supporters celebrated this milestone in a celebration called “400 Years to Forty Acres.”
That name and the name of the store were chosen to honor the legacy of Black farmers who in 1865 were promised “40 acres and a mule” as a first form of reparations to formerly enslaved people. It was a promise which was never fulfilled.
The event provided music, free food, and Forty Acres branded bags full of free fresh produce. While standing in line for food people could see the renderings of the future grocery store.
Abunaw said the event celebrates the start of the construction of the brick-and-mortar store, which will take several more months to complete. She said it also acknowledges the contributions of people’s time, expertise, and financial resources, as well as the importance of restoring black-owned grocery businesses and infrastructure in Austin.
Abunaw is from New York but lives in Chicago. She originally moved here to go to business school but never had plans to open a grocery store. One day, after getting off the bus in an unfamiliar neighborhood she tried to find an ATM to get cash. She had no luck in locating one. She then searched for a pharmacy or a grocery store to get cash back but could not find one within a mile or more.
That neighborhood was Austin and since that day she was inspired to start Forty Acres Fresh Market after witnessing the lack of resources and infrastructure in the area. She launched her first popup market in Austin in January 2018 and secured the location to build a store in 2020.
Many West Side residents, business owners, and local politicians gathered to celebrate this milestone.
One of the residents was Darlynn Gaston who has lived in Austin for more than 50 years and is a retired program director of the Westside Health Authority. She said she was full of happiness to have a grocery store in her neighborhood.
“I’m so excited to see businesses in this area being restored. I’m so excited because I see God on the move,” Gaston said. “We don’t have to go out of our neighborhood and it brings beautification to the community so it uplifts people and gives them hope. I’m so excited I don’t know what to do. I could just dance.”
Gaston added that many senior citizens cannot leave the neighborhood to buy groceries and that they will benefit from a local store.
Funding for Forty Acres comes from a range of sources. There was a $2.5 million grant from the Chicago Recovery Plan. Another grant was part of a larger effort to support access to healthy food in Austin in which Westside Health Authority received a $950,000 grant in 2021 from three Illinois foundations: the Christopher Family Foundation, Lumpkin Family Foundation and Builder’s Initiative. Forty Acres also secured a $500,000 grant from a state program that supports minority-owned businesses, to fund capital investments.
During the 400 Years to Forty Acres event, Abunaw was surprised with a certificate of recognition that was given by Tina Augusta, a co-founder of the West Side Chamber of Commerce.
Although Abunaw had a background in grocery retail from working 10 years with General Mills, she said she had to learn the ropes of operating a store from scratch.
Abunaw said that West Side residents who would like to purchase from Forty Acres Fresh Market do not have to wait until the official opening and can order delivery services that the store continues to provide on its website.
Abunaw said affordability, although important, is not the main goal of Forty Acres Fresh Market.
“We believe in the value of food and that’s what we are trying to do is offer people not simply cheap food but food that has value so that they’re willing to pay for it,” Abunaw said.
Forty Acres Fresh Market’s future location is at 5713 W. Chicago Ave., but daily delivery works from 1 p.m. till 7 p.m. and can be done through its website as a one-time delivery or a weekly subscription.