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Celebrating Black History Makers: Liz Abunaw Is Working To Conquer Food Inequality With Forty Acres Fresh Market

CHICAGO (CBS) -- During Black History Month, we're taking a look at people making a difference. One of our History Makers is working to conquer food inequality in Chicago.

Liz Abunaw has always had a passion for food.

"I worked with some of the largest grocery chains in the nation," she said.

Abunaw was at General Mills for a decade, and later at Microsoft. A corporate reorganization and layoff led her to focus on her first love and something more – the issue of food inequality in Chicago.

"I would say I didn't pick Austin, Austin picked me," she said.

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business graduate founded Forty Acres Fresh Market in 2018.

"I wound up on the #66 bus, getting off at Chicago and Laramie, not knowing where I was, and immediately noticing a lack of resources. They didn't have a grocery store, they didn't have a bank, they didn't have a pharmacy; all on a major commercial corridor. And so that experience stuck with me," she said.

She started slow with pop-up locations.

"You come into a location, and you pop it up, and then you can take it down. So I didn't have a bunch of equipment. I didn't have my own building. I was actually able to operate this business for the first year, strictly between my home and where I was popping up for a weekend," Abunaw said.

She operates the market out of a refrigerated warehouse in Pilsen. She does home grocery deliveries in the western suburbs and the entire city of Chicago, and carries 80 varieties of fruits and vegetables.

"In your bag, you could find everything from collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, to bok choy!" she said.

Abunaw said she also makes her deliveries affordable, accepting everything from SNAP benefits to coupon programs.

"It's things like that, that meet people where they are, that benefits the communities that need it most," she said.

Jacqueline Bass' mother, Carrie Bass, is one of Forty Acres Fresh Market's weekly delivery customers.

"Liz doing this is amazing!" Jacqueline said.

Carrie lives in North Lawndale. Jacqueline said the regular delivery driver has become like family, especially during the pandemic.

"On a Wednesday, I know exactly where she'll be. She'll be smiling at Marcus and accepting her fruits and vegetables just the way she wants them. And she needs them," Jacqueline said. "The good stuff."

Abunaw plans to open a free-standing brick and mortar full-service Forty Acres Fresh Market location in Austin next year.

"The emphasis is going to be on the store perimeter of meat, produce, and prepared food; because the freshness is what greets you," Abunaw said.

She said the name for her business came from the amount of land promised to freed Black slaves so they could farm and sustain their lives. She found it ironic the descendants of those first farmers now live in neighborhoods where they can get nothing that comes from farmland, but now she's changing that one pop-up and delivery at a time.

Abunaw said she's always made it a practice to hire from within the community. No doubt that practice will continue once the Forty Acres Fresh Market opens its doors in Austin in 2022.

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