Social entrepreneurs in Atlanta are helping transform the city by tackling some of the city’s most difficult and challenging issues through innovation and leadership.
One of these inspiring leaders is Yasmeen Sabir, a Food Well Alliance grant recipient, who is working to address affordable food access in low-access communities through her food hub, Carver’s Produce.
This month, Yasmeen's work was recognized by the Sara Blakely Foundation and the Center for Civic Innovation, who selected her as one of 10 female social entrepreneurs to participate in a one-year fellowship.
The Sara Blakely Foundation, started by Spanx founder Sara Blakely, has donated millions of dollars to charities that focus on empowering underserved women and girls.
It also works to support women by helping them reach success in education, the arts and entrepreneurship.
Through its partnership with the Center for Civic Innovation, the inaugural fellowship program will support 10 women-led social enterprises that are creating economic and social impact in Atlanta, such as The Come Up Project, Inc., which is working to break the cycle of incarceration by training at-risk youth in agribusiness.
“Yasmeen is joining a competitive group of women who love their city,” said Rohit Malhotra, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Civic Innovation.
“Yasmeen's story of why she works in food is deeply personal and it shows in her work,” he continued. “Because of this, she is a sponge for learning and is building a business that will not just change the lives of individuals, but she's destined to change the trajectory of an industry.”
Yasmeen said she feels honored to have support from community partners like the Center for Civic Innovation, the Sara Blakely Foundation and Food Well Alliance.
This year, Carver's Produce was also selected as one of Food Well Alliance's 2017 Local Food Grant recipients, who each received a one-year grant for up to $25,000. Grants are just one of several ways Food Well Alliance is supporting local food entrepreneurs to build healthier communities.
“I’ve gone through the highs and lows as a start-up, but remained steadfast on evolving as a company,” Yasmeen said. “To have Food Well Alliance invest in this project, to have the Center for Civic Innovation fully support me throughout this journey is a breath of fresh air as an entrepreneur. It truly allows us to strengthen Atlanta’s food movement collectively."
She added: “I told myself in the beginning this couldn’t be done by myself because it takes the voice and support of the village to produce this endeavor. With community growers, local food producers and community partners like Food Well Alliance and the Center for Civic Innovation, I’m truly humbled to say it’s evolved into that.”
For three years, Yasmeen has been working to fulfill a dream that first began as a research project her junior year while studying at Tuskegee University in Alabama.
At the time, she was coping with her father’s death when her economics professor gave her an assignment to assess and solve a problem in an urban community.
Yasmeen spent time thinking about the needs as a student in a food desert, and focused on the lack of access to affordable fresh food in low access areas.
As she embarked on the project, her room quickly became her own laboratory, and she spent time learning about George Washington Carver and his work with his mobile produce cart, The Jesup Agricultural Wagon.
“George W. Carver took the time to educate small rural farmers on crop rotation and assisted them with food distribution to increase their seasonal profit,” Yasmeen said, adding Carver’s Produce will hopefully become “The Jesup Agricultural Wagon 2.0.”
While she had a concept in mind, Yasmeen said the business developed on its own when she saw the demand for a food hub while working with local growers and food service buyers.
In 2013, Yasmeen officially founded Carver’s Produce, and last year celebrated the enterprise’s first year in operation with two food delivery sites in East Atlanta and East Point.
That same year, Carver’s Produce distributed food to more than 300 families, according to Yasmeen, who is working to see that number grow.
Carver's Produce is currently working with three local growers including Eastwyck Village Community Farm and two fellow Food Well Alliance grant recipients, Metro Atlanta Urban Farm and West End Community Urban Garden.
This year, the 28-year-old is also celebrating her third site, which will be home to her new brick-and-mortar location for her food hub, headquartered in Atlanta's Historic West End. The food hub is designed to store and develop food products for last mile distribution.
Yasmeen has plans to transform the 2,800 sq. ft. warehouse into a shared commercial cooling and storage facility for local food producers to store seasonal produce, process food products and develop new distribution channels.
The facility will also include an office space for her sales and kitchen management staff as well as work space for farmers to host product demos and private events.
As Yasmeen looks ahead to the future, she believes Carver’s Produce has the potential to become an international concept. The food hub is already working with small growers in Tema, Ghana who grow moringa.
Most of all, the social entrepreneur is hoping her work leaves a lasting impact on future entrepreneurs. And as a fellow, she hopes the pioneering cohort can inspire and help other female entrepreneurs.
“My advice to other entrepreneurs would be to trust the best of your human aspirations to create the change you wish to see in the world,” Yasmeen said. “You can manifest the best of your reality."
"Simply, the life you live derives from the reality you create in your mind," she added.
To learn more about Food Well Alliance’s work and how it is uniting Atlanta's local food movement to build a healthy food system together, click here.
To learn more about the women representing the inaugural cohort of the Sara Blakely Foundation and Center for Civic Innovation fellowship program click here.