Nona Evans, Whole Cities Foundation Executive Director
If you asked me a decade ago if I could imagine myself leading a nonprofit organization – I would have chuckled. I’m a lifelong foodie and have worked in the food business for 30 years. Thankfully, most grocery stores participate in food redistribution which is the process of sharing unsold food with community organizations that re-distribute to those experiencing hunger. What I didn’t understand at all was the challenge of food access. The fact that communities across the country – a country of immense wealth and abundance – don’t have easy, affordable access to healthy food.
Whole Foods Market established Whole Cities Foundation in 2014 to address the issue of healthy food access.
At the time, I was leading another Whole Food Market-established nonprofit, Whole Kids Foundation, and I was asked to help Whole Cities get settled in the Whole Foods Market family. While I was sharing my experience, I was also learning about the barriers communities face to healthy food access and the power of local leadership.
As my eyes opened, my passion was sparked. But passion isn’t enough. I had to commit to a learning journey, and I will be on it for as long as I live.
To solve a problem, you have to understand why it exists. As I learned, I realized I was unaware of the extent to which systemic racism impacts so many issues – most notably for me on the lack of access communities of color have to fresh, healthy, affordable and convenient food.
I share my experience, because it took humbling my heart and mind so that I could re-learn all I thought I knew, in order to play any role in the work that lie ahead. I sought to understand things like white privilege, what it means to undo racism or be an anti-racist. Learning about the concept of racial stamina was hugely enlightening. Five years ago, these words and concepts made me frightfully uncomfortable. I am willing to have difficult conversations and to get it wrong so that I may learn and use what I learn to support others.
Proud to Support Our Community Partners
Servant leadership is a buzz phrase in the world but at the Whole Foods Market it is a way of life. Servant leaders care about others with a commitment to serve the higher purpose of our company, fellow team members, our customers and our communities without ego. In my opinion, it’s also the most effective approach to accomplishing any goal!
Whole Cities Foundation applies servant leadership slightly differently when it comes to supporting the nearly 200 community organizations we partner with today.
We begin our work by seeking to understand: the issue, the community, the circumstance, the challenges and the solutions.
With the opening of our store in Detroit, a new model for Whole Foods Market’s work was born. The approach is called Community First, which respects the deep knowledge of community members, the work that has come before us, as well as a community’s self-determined goals and then uses this as the lens for looking at all major decisions that impact that community.
The Community First process in Detroit- and the corresponding principles- led to the establishment of the Whole Cities Foundation, a nonprofit committed to expanding access to fresh food and healthy eating education by supporting grassroots partnerships at the local level.
It’s truly an honor to continue this mission, support these Community First principles, and work with so many amazing community partners to expand fresh food access and healthy eating education.
To learn more about Whole Cities Foundations’ Community First principles click here.