Where do you shop for your fresh fruits and vegetables? Depending on your zipcode, you may have to drive hours away from your home just to buy unprocessed quality groceries. Unfortunately, this is because many neighborhoods in Chicago are considered food deserts.
“We always had to travel outside the area to get quality fruits and veggies, that weren’t bruised. I started hearing a lot about the term food desert and when I researched the definition and my zipcode, I realized that I lived in a food desert. This is why I had a hard time to find fruits and veggies. Synergy was created out of a need. I saw a problem and I wanted to solve it,” Leah Holmes, Founder and CEO of Synergy Foods explained.
Food deserts can be described as geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance. This growing epidemic has been linked to the disparities in health. The neighborhoods that consist of food deserts have been known to have higher statistics of diabetes, kidney disease and heart failure.
This is not just Chicago issue, or a socioeconomic issue, but also civil rights issue.
This is something that Holmes of chose to help rectify in Chicago as a black entrepreneur. Synergy Foods was created three and a half years ago when Holmes lived on 69th and Dorchester. Synergy, a word that brings all of the energies together, started off as fresh fruit and veggie marketplace for the city of Chicago and has since grown to focus more on educational initiatives for children. Synergy is helping to build the community through food, creating an experience where individuals can build, educate, learn and shop healthy. It’s focus is all about providing our customers with great tasting quality fruits and vegetables.
“The community’s response when I had my first produce market out on my yard, on 69th, and people on social media, let me know that this is a need and people want it,” Holmes added.
Holmes initially started everything outside of her own home. She sold the produce at competitive prices to people within her neighborhood and beyond. The quality was unmatched and unparalleled for fresh fruit on the Southside of Chicago. This was their biggest success yet over the past three years. The best feeling to Holmes is knowing that more families on the Southside of Chicago have fresh fruit and veggies. Everything is about community. Synergy has also passed out food for free to homeless and the underserved in the Chicagoland area.
“I would buy the produce. I would set up tents and I opened up my house and set up shop. I got cases of everything. Apples, bananas, eggplants, I found my distributors and produce through my own research,” Holmes explained.
All though, Synergy does not sell produce or deliver fruits anymore, the company has shifted their focus to educational initiatives and bridging the gap in between purchasing fruits and vegetables and using them. Synergy Foods has a great relationship with the Whole Foods and Mariano’s that are apart of the city’s efforts to eliminate the food deserts in Chicago because of their shared commitment to community.
Holmes plans to make Synergy a top minority fresh produce distributor, as well as host food programs that teaches them about the differences between fruits and vegetables. Synergy has established a contact with Betty Shabazz charter school to provide the students with fresh fruits and vegetables. Success is guaranteed for this young self proclaimed determined, unconventional, and adventurous businesswoman.
“I define success based on the impact that Synergy has on my customers. It feels good knowing that I was able to help them find quality produce,” Holmes said proudly.