Food Justice Organizer Adamaah Grayse returned to her Buffalo roots to provide Buffalonians with healthy food options

Could you please tell us a little about yourself? 

My name is Adamaah Grayse and I’m from Buffalo’s East Side. I grew up near Woodlawn and Kehr, but I’ve actually been out of town for years. I finished college and moved away and now I’ve moved back. I have a bachelor’s in business and a master’s in college administration. Throughout my career, I’ve gone back and forth between assisting small businesses with business development and working in education. I had a mid-career pivot due to my love of growing food and became an organic farmer.

Tell us about your project?

For my job, I do food justice organizing. That includes some community outreach and pushing for policy engagement around food equity and access. As part of that, my practice is to get the local paper, the Buffalo Challenger, and read it every week to find out what’s going on in the community. It was listed in there that this program was coming up and I had some interest in building something with affordable housing and commercial retail space which would include a major component featuring urban agriculture. But I wasn’t quite sure how that would look here. I thought “Oh, this program would really help me shape and figure out how to bring my idea to life.” So, I applied for the program and got in.

Because of May 14, 2022, when the massacre happened, Buffalo was put on the map, and not just for our wings. That Tops grocery store was the only major grocery store on the East Side that served like 90,000 people. Don’t get me wrong, there are some stores like Aldi’s and some smaller convenience stores sprinkled throughout the East Side, but an actual, major grocery retailer? Tops is it. There are no spaces where you can just go in and assume that you’re going to find a decent — not big, but just a decent — selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. How do you get youth to even eat these things if they don’t even know what they are? They’ve not seen them. I feel like this is a big deal. We need a commercial kitchen space for people who have cottage industries — things in their homes where they can produce their recipe for something like a new wing sauce. They don’t have the funds to equip their kitchen to pass a health inspection or to be certified as a commercial kitchen. But if they could rent space, they could create their value-added products and get them on the grocery shelves. So, a part of the project I’m working on in class is developing a building and creating a commercial kitchen that would make that possible.

Would you recommend this class to others?

100%. This has been such an amazing experience. It’s been a lot. It’s literally the equivalent of two semesters of coursework and we had one week off. Just think of two semesters back-to-back.

It just demystified how you go about bringing a commercial development to life. To be able to build a business that benefits my community, that is still my goal and my plan. But to now have the understanding of how to bring that about is so empowering. And that’s overall, what I took out of the class — how to actually make this happen. Who do you reach out to and hire? How you move through this process of bringing that vision to life and making sure through the process that you can afford it. It’s not just a hope and luck and a prayer and a dream. There are some concrete steps to put it in place and some ways of checking the finances to make sure that it’s affordable. You can do it and project the income that should come in to ensure long-term success of the commercial venture. I got that from the class.

It was a great experience and I would definitely recommend it to people who have visions that they want to bring to life and things they want to build on the East Side. This program will show them how.

What is your vision for the East Side?

I’m in the fourth cohort [of the CBREDT Class]. So there have been three cohorts before ours. My vision for the East Side is that a good number of graduates from the program are able to obtain the financing that they need to secure the property and/or the land that they desire to bring their projects to life.

Most people want to actively build and take away the blight that is on the East Side right now — the visual poverty. With the blight, you have the possibility of folks dumping because you’ve got these open lots. We need to have infill projects with housing and commercial real estate. This would bring more businesses like laundromats and barber shops and retail, like specialty boutiques. That, in turn, will lead to neighborhoods coming back to life with people and places to gather. That is the vision — to see the East Side thriving and to have neighborhoods with distinct characteristics and personalities the way that parts of the West Side and North Buffalo have.