Black grocer yields holistic health in Castleberry

y Kalin Thomas Contributing Writer | 4/26/2013, noon
Georgia’s largest city is teeming with so-called “food deserts,” a term used to describe communities with little or no access ...
Sister and brother team Alison and Alphonzo Cross opened Box Car Grocer to fill a need for healthy food in Castleberry Hill and neighboring communities. (Photo by Vincent Christie).

ATLANTA – Georgia’s largest city is teeming with so-called “food deserts,” a term used to describe communities with little or no access to healthy food.

And, not surprisingly, most of them are in poor and black neighborhoods.

As the nation commemorates National Minority Health month, studies show that African Americans who live in food deserts suffer from higher levels of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

But in Atlanta’s historically black Castleberry Hill neighborhood, the Box Car Grocer has become an oasis in that desert.

Brother and sister co-owners Alison and Alphonzo Cross moved to Atlanta from San Francisco and opened the much-needed store in October of 2011.

“People were literally waiting outside our doors for us to open. It was a shock because we didn’t even make any formal announcement,” said Alison Cross. “But that just illustrates people really want a place where they can find healthy food that they don’t have to travel for miles to get.”

The store provides organic foods and produce, body products, vegan products, household goods and pet products.

Box Car also sells locally produced items like the vegan pastries from Homemade Joy in the West End, and the non-dairy desert Almond-licious Ice Supreme by Ashiki’s All Natural, Inc. in Mableton.

“Ice Supreme is a popular product here because 90 percent of black people are lactose intolerant,” said product inventor Ashiki Taylor. “The Box Car Grocer is inspirational because we both have the mission of selling health to our community.”

The grocer also partners with urban farms like Habesha Gardens in Mechanicsville, Good Shepherd Community Church Gardens in the West End and Truly Living Well’s Wheat Street Garden in the historic Sweet Auburn district.

And because they prepare hot and cold sandwiches and provide free access to wifi, the shop has become a neighborhood hangout.

“We come here to meet about every other week. They’re so hospitable here. And we love their coffee,” said Kima Golden, co-owner of a photography business in Atlanta.

Juliet Anderson, a voice instructor at Clark Atlanta University, said it’s more than just the food and atmosphere that brings her into the store twice a week. “I love that Alison and Alphonzo have a real concern for the community,” she said.

One line in Box Car’s mission statement – “Our vision is about abundance in every aspect of life” – conveys the store’s commitment to providing a holistic approach to community health, the owners say.

“Health has to do with food, your spirituality, and your environment and how that impacts the individual, the family and the entire community,” Alison Cross said. “So, food is the entry point for ways to make lifestyle changes that can transform your entire life.”