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Journey to Entrepreneurship at the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub

Dig Deep Farms food hub

The theme that runs through Community Capital Policing is opportunity. In fact, DSAL and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office built our model of public safety as a response to the lack of opportunity for residents in Ashland, Cherryland, and surrounding communities.

Using the Community Capitals Framework as a guide, we have invested in the community’s financial, built, social, human, cultural, natural, political, and human capitals that strengthen a community. Some of our projects, like the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub, address an assortment of intersecting capitals, such as:

  • Built capital, through the construction of a 3,000-square-foot commercial kitchen and food recovery facility;

  • Financial capital, in the form of wages for the workers and revenue for small business owners;

  • Social capital, the community connections that are emerging among Food Hub staff and interns and the entrepreneurs who lease space in the Food Hub; and

  • Human capital, by supporting local food businesses and creating jobs and internships in the food industry.

The Food Hub’s commercial kitchen also solves one of the most vexing issues for new food businesses by providing an affordable, commercial-grade kitchen space where they can safely and legally prepare and cook their products without having to own and maintain the facility themselves.

Launched in January 2020, the Food Hub now serves 33 food entrepreneurs and recently expanded operations to 24 hours a day to keep up with demand.

We spoke to two of the entrepreneurs who are leasing space at the Food Hub and figuring out how to continue growing their businesses during a pandemic.

Marisa Gittens, Founder, Chef and Run

Marisa Gittens, aka Chef Marisa, is the founder and head chef at Chef and Run, a local catering company. Marisa got her start in the food business when she ran an entrepreneurial program for youth. She raised funds by making chocolate-covered strawberries and other, bite-sized desserts. Eventually, Marisa decided to start her own bite-sized dessert company. Her business didn’t work out as planned, but she continued pursuing opportunities in the food industry, deepening her experience, and rising through the ranks at a handful of prominent catering companies. Marisa started Chef and Run in 2016.

“I believe that food is life. It can enrich your life, or take away from it. It can make you healthy or it can kill you. People need to cherish food and understand how important it is to have a great meal and to be nourished.”

– Marisa Gittens, Founder, Chef and Run

“Throughout this process, I learned how to be a chef, and I realized that I'm really good at organizing systems, which is another reason I'm good at this job,” said Marisa.

After COVID-19 hit, Marisa lost a substantial portion of her business, but then she landed an account with World Central Kitchen. Next, she needed to find a commercial kitchen. She soon discovered the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub.

“Dig Deep Farms was the most financially accessible and the easiest kitchen to get started with,” said Marisa. “They let us get in quicker, where we were able to secure the (World Central Kitchen) account and start making money.”

Marisa and her team also participate in DSAL’s Emergency Food Production program, which supports local food businesses while also providing healthy meals for food-insecure families and residents who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

She also takes advantage of a unique internship program made possible through a partnership with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office that provides paid internship experiences to survivors of domestic violence as part of the Alameda County Family Justice Center and STEP-UP program.

Bria Hutson, Founder, Ju’C Fruits

Like Chef Marisa, Bria Hutson set out to make the world a better place through healthy food. It was always difficult finding healthy food in the East Oakland community where she grew up, but when she cut out all animal-based products, things became even more challenging.

“My community is a food desert, and when I transitioned into plant-based consumption—cutting out all animal-based products—what was already a problem when trying to find healthier options got even more challenging, because it's hard to find good quality fresh produce and placeswhere you can get salads and healthy meals,” said Bria.

In 2018, Bria launched her business, Ju’C Fruits, to make fresh, cold-pressed juice using produce sourced primarily from local farmers, including Dig Deep Farms and Mandela Partners. She also offers gourmet salads, BBQ jackfruit sliders, taco salads, and a variety of other plant-based foods.

Bria got connected to Mandela Partners in 2019, and they gave her an opportunity to sell her products at the Jack London Square Farmers Market. She landed her first retail space at the Ashland Market in October 2020.

As she began to scale her business, Bria recognized that finding a commercial kitchen was a “big challenge.”

“I made the journey into entrepreneurship and decided to go ahead and start to create that change and be the change the community needed.”

– Bria Hutson, Founder, Ju’C Fruits

“The one thing I needed to take business to the next level was a commissary kitchen, but the options are limited, and the ones that were available were extremely expensive, or they were exclusive, or they were packed and didn't have much space,” said Bria. “Being able to finally have access to the Food Hub opened up doors to new opportunities, and that's one of the key factors in me being able to secure the café that I have now.”

Bria also participates in DSAL’s Emergency Food Production program, which is creating a whole new set of opportunities for her business.

“Having the opportunity to be part of the community meals program, gave me the experience of learning how to scale up and do large production because I hadn't done that before,” she said. “On the flip side, it gave me the opportunity to serve the community and make sure that people who are vegetarian, or vegan, or plant-based aren’t left out.”

Marissa and Bria’s stories show just how powerful Community Capitals Policing is for the community. The Food Hub gives entrepreneurs affordable space to grow and scale their businesses while creating jobs and addressing food insecurity for Alameda County residents, all of which are investments in a 21st century approach to fostering long-term public safety. It’s a win-win-win for the community!

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