CHICAGO—The Salaam Community Wellness Center, a holistic healing space, recently held its grand opening and ribbon cutting of their latest collaboration, “Eat to Live Urban Farm, Paradise Garden: Food Is Medicine.”
Dr. Constance Shabazz, a noted healthcare professional, serves as CEO and co-founder of the Salaam Community Wellness Center. “When we started the Salaam Community Wellness Center, one of our focuses was always on the use of nutrition as a way of addressing many of the chronic illnesses that plague our community. We started thinking in terms of what was available already in this area, and this area is considered a food desert, some people would term it as food apartheid,” she told The Final Call.
Dr. Shabazz explained that food apartheid means there has been an intentional denial of a community having the right resources for health and wellness. “Even though there were at least 17 gardens in this area, they were not what we would call subsistence gardens. The first full-scale grocery store opened up in this area just before COVID hit, and before that, it has been 40 years since this community had a grocery store. We wanted to make sure that the residents in the Woodlawn community had ease of access to affordable and healthy food,” said Dr. Shabazz.
“We received a grant from Aetna, which allowed us to cultivate 30-40 different varieties of organic produce, which will be available to the community and the restaurant, ‘Let’s Eat to Live,’ which is a part of the collective and uses fresh produce on the menu,” she added.
Akbar Kurt Muhammad is also a co-founder of The Salaam Community Wellness Center. “The objective is, we as Black people are charged with a responsibility to make our communities clean and a decent place to live. This is what the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad expressed to us. No one else is going to come into our community and do it. This community is a food apartheid, not a food desert. A desert is something natural, this is apartheid because the lack of resources is intentional,” he said.
“This is a free community garden, and this is a farm-to-table venture, where people can come here and pick their vegetables and also go into ‘Let’s Eat to Live’ restaurant and eat healthy food,” said Akbar Muhammad. We have cultivated a variety of organic vegetables that will be available.”
Shaan Trotter is the health equity officer for Aetna Better Health of Illinois. “This community garden project is one of many projects that we are focused on around food security or insecurity to be specific. We wanted to make more of an impact on the South Side and West Side of Chicago where we know that there are ample food deserts and just lack of quality of food,” said Mr. Trotter.
“When we were made aware of this project, we were happy to be a part of assisting with eliminating the food disparity in this area. We gave financial support with the build-out for this urban garden as well as some manpower.”
The grand opening which took place on August 26 also pleased local residents.
Woodlawn resident and property owner Rachel Gary stated, “I grew up in the Woodlawn area and I recently purchased two buildings across the street from here, so it’s really refreshing to see that the community is getting together to build a healthy community garden.”
Nahla Muhammad (formerly known as Carmella Muhammad) is the owner of ‘Let’s Eat to Live’ restaurant at 621 E. 67th Street, where the community garden is located. The popular eatery celebrated its one-year anniversary of the opening of the restaurant on Sept. 3. She is also the owner of ‘The Foodie’s Spot’, located in the South Shore area of the city on 7350 South Stony Island Avenue. That restaurant recently celebrated five years in business.
“I am in collaboration with Eat to Live Garden, where the vegetation that is grown in the garden is used in our menu. The garden was started last year but it had no protection from the elements,” she told The Final Call. Some of the things being grown were also being eaten by animals, so Nahla Muhammad went to work.
She saw a video on social media that demonstrated how to protect vegetation in gardens and showed the video to Akbar Muhammad and Dr. Shabazz. With the grant, they were able to build raised beds to plant and more successfully grow vegetables.
“Let’s Eat to Live has been received wonderfully by the community. We get a lot of takeouts, which is really what has grown the business. They are happy that we are here. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has visited us at least three times and has referred others to come here,” she said.
“It has been a blessing. Minister Farrakhan has expressed how happy he is to see this restaurant and the entire project. He didn’t know what we were doing, and I believe in working silently. Let Allah (God) show the work, instead of posting it all over the world for everyone to see,” stated Nahla Muhammad. For more information, visit www.letseattoliverestaurant.com and The Foodie’s Spot on Facebook.
Shawntell Muhammad can be contacted at [email protected].