Black Farmers’ HUB
1409 Cross Street, Raleigh | 919-796-4776 | facebook.com/blackfarmershub
On a recent Sunday afternoon, music filled the Black Farmers’ HUB as customers browsed wooden boxes of fruit and vegetables and shelves scattered with local honey, spice blends, sauces, grits, and grape juice.
It was the grand opening of Southeast Raleigh’s newest grocery store at 1409 Cross Street—the latest venture from Demetrius Hunter and his partner, Priscilla Ngera—and the mood was lively. A group of masked customers sat in the corner of the store fanning themselves while in the adjoining room, a DJ booth livestreamed music from Nairobi, Kenya, where Ngera’s brother, Ezekiel Muthuki, aka DJ Muez, was playing a set.
“The store opened at 1:00 p.m.,” Hunter says. “People started lining up at 12:45.”
Southeast Raleigh is designated as a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The mission of Hunter’s new grocery is to make fresh food affordable to the community and support local farmers in the process. All produce and products are sourced from local Black farmers and businesses.
Hunter has been distributing food in Southeast Raleigh since 2013, when he founded the community-based mobile market Grocers on Wheels, but his family’s connection to food justice and the land stretches back to the early-19th century.
His great-great-grandmother, Ambert Turner Sanders, was born into slavery in 1836. Following the Civil War, she and her husband purchased a 39-acre plot of land in Johnston County, where they began a peach and plum orchard. Decades later, during the Great Depression, Hunter’s grandfather would travel to Raleigh to sell the farm’s produce, followed by Hunter’s father, Zelb, a World War II veteran who transitioned to selling vegetables full-time after retiring in 1980.
Demetrius Hunter remembers riding around in his father’s truck as the pair made delivery trips around the city, watching his father build relationships with residents, often extending credit.
“Grocers on Wheels delivered to the same communities my dad did, and we still do that delivery service,” Hunter says. “And the brick-and-mortar was so important, especially during the pandemic.”
Fresh food was a need 40 years ago in Raleigh, when his father was making those produce runs, and it continues now. Food deserts—defined as a community in which the poverty rate is 20 percent or greater, and in which 33 percent of the population lives more than one mile from a supermarket—are pervasive across the state. In 2014, there were at least 349 food deserts, a federal study revealed, and these days North Carolina ranks as the 10th-hungriest state in the country, with particularly high rates of food insecurity among children and seniors.
Over the years, several major chains laid down roots in Southeast Raleigh only to close their doors. In 2012, two such stores shuttered—a Kroger on New Bern Avenue and one on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard—deepening area food insecurity. A Save-A-Lot opened in 2015 in the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard space before closing in 2019.
Alternative grocery models have helped fill the gap, including the Fertile Ground Cooperative, which hosts farmers’ markets and has been working since 2011 to establish a member-owned grocery store.
In 2013, Hunter formed Grocers on Wheels alongside the public health advocate and performance artist Anita Woodley. The organization, a partnership with local farmers and Wake County Human Services, delivers produce and healthy baked goods directly to homes, senior centers, and social service providers. Since the onset of the pandemic, the group has delivered between 300–400 boxes of produce a week, Ngera says.
“The hospitality industry was hit really hard by the pandemic,” Priscilla Ngera says, “and most of these chefs don’t have jobs. So we want to put it out there where we can help the community, and they can come and show their talent and also do a demo, as they also show people what we have in the store.”
Food insecurity has been unforgiving during COVID-19 and will likely get worse as CARES protections expire. Emergency federal interventions have helped lessen the blow, but only temporarily. Hunter’s efforts, in contrast, will continue to build on the relationships his father and ancestors began, and create an organization with longevity that supports Black makers and builds community.
Having a building to call home anchors those efforts, not unlike the plot of land in Johnston County did for Hunter’s family 150 years ago.
Hunter and Ngera hope to run events in the new space, including cooking demos that feature one-pot recipes across the African diaspora, like Mukimo, a stew made with boiled potatoes and greens.
They also have a vision of hiring young people to work with them and carry on the mission. Ngera’s 17-year-old daughter, Immaculate Wanjiku, does much of the grant writing and marketing for the grocery. On opening day, she was busy showing customers around the store, and detailing where certain vegetables came from.
“This is a part of our legacy and how it should continue on,” Hunter says. “But I want it to be above and beyond me, you know—bigger than me and my dad.”
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