Black grocer yields holistic health in Castleberry Hill

5/2/2013, noon
Box Car provides organic foods and produce, body products, vegan products, household goods and pet products.

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.”

Her brother added: “When we opened here, there was no merchants association, so we worked with the other businesses and started one. There was no farmers market, so we started one here on Sundays. And there was no community garden, so now we have to start that.

“When a community is not doing what it needs to do to thrive, then it’s up to businesses to step up to the plate and provide the development and leadership that’s needed,” he added.

Box Car also opened a community room where area residents can host meetings and classes, like yoga classes provided by certified yoga instructor and holistic health coach, Vanya Francis.

“Often, people who come to Box Car Grocer to purchase organic food are also interested in addressing their holistic health,” said Francis, co-owner of Om Point Yoga + Wellness. “So it’s a great synergy in making healthy options accessible to people in urban communities.”

The experiment has been so successful, the owners say, that they hope to export the success of their venture to 20 U.S. cities by 2020.

“The communities we’re going into were historically black, vital communities where the life was sucked out of them when the banks stopped providing loans to allow people to upkeep their properties and hold on to their businesses,” Alison Cross said.

And Box Car Grocer is prepared to take the lead on that front, she said.

“I agree with [environmental activist] Majora Carter: You don’t have to move into a new community to live in a better one.”