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Food Desert, No More: Local Teens Open Fresh Food Market in Austin, Chicago

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

group photo of people wearing black and white clothes with pumpkins displayed around them

Austin Harvest Fresh Market · Source: By The Hand Club for Kids

Written by: Erin Cigliano, AICP

October 16, 2020

2020 as a whole has been hard on everyone...

But few communities have been harder hit than youth in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. Adjusting to the new normal amidst Covid-19 has been an evolving hardship as schools flutter open and closed, athletics are delayed, and many after-school activities are cancelled or moved online. The predictable nature of necessities that come with those -- school lunches, homework support, time with friends, teachers and mentors -- were stripped for many youth. Despite these struggles, Austin also has some of the strongest organizations within the city, bringing together both hope and solutions that turned this past summer into a life changing experience for its youth. If there was ever a story of good news and silver linings, resilience, equity, and the power of the next generation -- this is it.


Changemakers: Sam Acho + Pro Athletes Join Forces with By The Hand Club For Kids

"We are really excited to be here. We are dreaming with you!"

- Sam Acho, Professional Football Player

In June of 2020, By The Hand Club For Kids connected with professional football player Sam Acho who was interested in hearing from youth directly. Sam brought together fellow Chicago pro athletes including Jonathan Toews and Malcolm Subban from the Blackhawks, Jason Heyward and Jason Kipnis from the Cubs, Diamond DeShields from the Sky, Max Strus from the Bulls, Mitch Trubisky from the Bears, and many others to talk with Austin's youth.

To help engage the youth listening sessions, Donnita Travis, executive director of By The Hand, reached out to Teska Associates to help facilitate. Several sessions of socially distanced inspiration and ideation followed wherein local teens, By The Hand, professional athletes and Teska explored neighborhood needs -- drilling down possibilities to reality, and rallying around one key question and vision: How can we create a local fresh food market operated by youth?

"We need more variety of food. All the healthy stuff is expensive."

- Local Austin Teens

Left: Youth listening sessions, Right: By The Hand Club for Kids. Source: Teska Associates


$500k Invested to Tear Down Liquor Store, Replace with Austin Harvest Fresh Food Market

"A lot of people have so little... I want to serve and give to others."

- Local Austin Teens

Just 8-weeks after the youth listening sessions took place, a neighborhood liquor store was purchased, torn down, and a fresh food market, Austin Harvest, was born thanks to the generosity and commitment of athletes led by Sam Acho.

Group standing in front of storefront

“Austin teens, Donnita Travis, Sam Acho, some of the amazing professional athletes involved in this effort, and many others including mayor Lori Lightfoot, gather in front of the liquor store - now the site of Austin Harvest - before demolition begins. · Source: By The Hand Club for Kids”

The pop-up market directly responds to what athletes heard from youth and since its opening on August 24, 2020, Austin Harvest is thriving!

  • 585+ transactions

  • 50% returning customers

  • 2,000+ flowers sold

  • 7,000 fresh produce items sold

The very same teens from By The Hand who shared their vision back in June 2020, are the ones leading the charge and working at the market selling fresh food and flowers. In addition to running the market, the teens have participated in intensive leadership and entrepreneurship training through By The Hand, The Hatchery and Flowers for Dreams. Trainings have including customer service, marketing, floral and produce care, and even brand development and architecture. High school students Keith Tankson and Azariah Baker (photos below) have been with the project from the beginning.

Left: Azariah Baker attends to foliage, Right: Keith Tankson selling local tomatoes and greens.

Source: By The Hand and Teska Associates

“Planning for fall is going very well! We have 2 Sisters Catering and Lighthouse Cafe doing fall drinks and fall foods, pumpkin decorating, special recipes - pretty much everything we brainstormed - it should be great!”

- Andraya Yousfi, By The Hand Managing Director


Q + A with By The Hand Teen, Azariah Baker

Q: Why did By The Hand youth want to create a fresh food market?

After seeing the results of all the rioting and looting that came from George Floyd’s death, it was obvious that people were outraged, tired, and trying to make a statement, and so were we. The market is a symbol of healing in our community. That’s why we wanted it. We wanted to be an outlet and a blueprint for change in our community.

Q: What is one thing you’ve learned moving from planning to opening Austin Harvest?

That there are so many different aspects that go into running and creating a business. We were fortunate enough to have taken classes in so many different things starting from food handling, flower arrangements to media relations, logo design and customer service training. There are so many more jobs out there than I thought and I just created so many more. That’s such a powerful feeling.

Q: What have you liked most about this experience?

I love to see all of our supporters’ reactions. It’s always funny when people come in to shop and are just absolutely stunned. Not only have we seen an outpour of love from our families and people in the community but from each other as well. Our staff supports each other indefinitely. Either we’re clapping when someone makes it in to work or were telling them how good of a job they did at their station today. I’ve had people from both my old elementary school and my current high school see me and stop and ask for a picture or they want postcards to give to their friends or even ask if they could just come volunteer. I can genuinely say I love coming to work and that’s a privilege so many people don’t have.

collage of Instagram photos from Austin Harvest

Source: Instagram @AustinHarvestFreshMarket

The season has changed and we’re ready! #AustinHarvest

Check out Austin Harvest on the days and times listed below. Give them a follow on Instagram @AustinHarvestFreshMarket for the latest news, events, and specials.

Austin Harvest

423 N Laramie St

Chicago, IL 60644

M-W-F · 2pm to 6pm



About Erin:

People Place Planner + Creative Strategist · Since joining Teska Associates, Inc. in 2006, Erin has been engaging communities using her experience in communication, planning and design. Planner by background, human by nature -- she merges the application of outreach mediums with creative thinking to ensure processes and plans are inviting, inclusive, and inspired.



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