February was first officially celebrated as Black History month in 1976. It’s roots, however, go back to 1926 when a group of prominent African Americans created “Negro History Week” which occurred in the middle of February to coincide with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Valentine’s Day is also in the middle of February, so it should come as no surprise that the founding of one Black-owned business starts with a love story.
In 1996, Prairie Rose Hyde was a Peace Corps volunteer assigned as an agricultural educator to the village of Kaboli in Togo which is in western Africa. While there she met Olowo-n’djo Tchala and, as sometimes happens, they fell in love. They moved to the U.S. after Prairie Rose’s Peace Corps stint ended and came up with a plan to create a business that could improve the lives of people in Togo. The heart of the company was shea butter—a major ingredient in what has now become an extensive line of body care products including shampoos, hair conditioners and lotions. The company they founded, Alaffia—which means a state of peace, health and well-being—has become a force for good on both sides of the Atlantic. They have created thousands of fair- trade jobs in Togo for shea nut harvesters and processors and more than 100 jobs here in the U.S. at their Washington State production and distribution facility.
Harvest Market is pleased to carry both Alaffia’s body-care products as well as their colorful and very useful woven market baskets. We’re also grateful for the support our customers showed when we participated in Alaffia’s used eye glasses and used bicycle collection programs—getting these gently used but no longer needed items to the people in Togo who could use them.
Another Black-owned business whose products we stock also has a love tie-in. The love a mother has for a daughter who suffers with food allergies. After struggling to find really tasty treats for her daughter, Vivienne, Denise Woodard created a line of allergen-friendly cookies that she eventually turned into a business. Her company, Partake Foods, is notable as being owned by the first woman of color to raise more than one million dollars in venture capital for a food company. Her investors have included Rihanna and JAY-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners.
Though Black people make up 12.7% of the U.S. population, they own just 4.3% of our country’s privately-held companies and these companies receive less than one percent of investment funding. This is not just another set of statistics, but a reminder that after centuries of enslavement, decades of Jim Crow and even more decades of barriers to achieving full equality—such as voter suppression laws and lack of access to investment capital, America has far to go in allowing Black people a seat at the table of opportunity.
Like Partake Foods, Pipcorn, founded by the brother and sister duo of Jeff and Jenn Martin and Jeff’s wife Teresa, was able to overcome the obstacles to financing their company’s growth through hard work and a prominent endorsement. After their heirloom popcorn was picked as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things, they were able to expand distribution of their line of popcorn and ultimately landed an investment deal with Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran. Pipcorn has since added cheese balls, which we carry, and crackers to their lineup. Watch our shelves for new Pipcorn products, coming soon!
Harvest Market is pleased to feature the products of these three Black-owned companies as well as those listed below. Click the images to read about each company, how they got their starts and what’s special about their products. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more stories about these amazing companies.