By Annette Pinder
Allison DeHonney’s didn’t plan on becoming an urban farmer, a certified plant-based chef, or administering prescription-based food diets. She and her family came to Buffalo from Warwick, a small town in New York’s Hudson Valley. She planned to attend New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, but when no dorm rooms were available, she switched gears, earning a BA in Business and an an MBA from Medaille College.
An Account Executive, Allison successfully managed three companies. A meeting with former Masten District Councilman Demone Smith opened her eyes to the struggles many people in Buffalo were experiencing, including food insecurity and their lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables. When he told Allison she could do something about it, she was Intrigued, researched the problem, and thought, “I can make a business out of this.”
With a goal of building an urban farm, Allison created a business plan. Lacking experience, she asked a long-time gardener on Glenwood Avenue for help. “Sandra Bynum always had the best yard on the block, and lived across from the abandoned city-owned plot of land I wanted to purchase,” said Allison. With Sandra’s help and minimal funding, other than her own savings, Allison created an urban farm. Urban Fruits & Veggies (UFV) was built in one day, with the help of a local horticulturist, neighborhood volunteers, and 20 Nichols School students and teachers. “The first year, we grew collard greens, lettuce, and green peppers and gave it all away. Gigi’s, a landmark neighborhood restaurant, said our veggies tasted great,” said Allison.
Now five years later, having acquired more land, UFV has added to its initial crop, growing mustard and turnip greens, swiss chard, carrots, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, and more. Allison also spearheads Buffalo Go Green Inc. (BGG), a non-profit organization. She also has a mobile produce market that provides healthy fruits, vegetables, and nutrition education to underserved communities. BGG/UFV is at markets weekly throughout the growing season. Allison’s corporate wellness division delivers wellness programming, nutrition and farming education to elementary, high school, and college students.
Allison is involved in so many community initiatives, there isn’t room to mention them all. She is engaged in a fruits and vegetables prescription program with Community Health Center of Buffalo (CHCB) nutritionists and physicians. Patients identified as having chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension receive weekly fruit and vegetable prescriptions. Patients purchase food at reduced prices, underwritten by CHCB. SNAP Benefits farmer’s market checks, and Fresh Connect checks for veterans are all accepted as payment. CHCB also works with Allison to conduct patient wellness events.
Meanwhile, the demand for Allison’s services continues to grow. She recently began working with Niagara Street Pediatrics. UFV/BGG provides fresh fruits & Veggies to The Buffalo Urban League’s food pantry. Recent programs are FreshTake, comprised of several partners, including Cornell Cooperative Extension that prepare and deliver culturally appropriate healthy meals to corner stores and churches. Knowing policy change is impactful, Allison works with UB Food Lab, Johns Hopkins University, University of Minneapolis, and other community-based organizations on a Growing Food Policy from the Ground Up initiative.
BGG’s long-term vision is to build a holistic wellness and agricultural education center on Buffalo’s east side, with Dr. Lavonne Ansari, Executive Director of CHCB as a main partner. “We don’t want to duplicate clinical services. We want to provide what people are not getting, such as nutrition education classes, yoga, a place to exercise, blood pressure checks, dental check-ups, and other services.
The recipient of numerous awards, Allison’s achievements include being a stakeholder in Bailey Green which took second place in the International Making Cities More Livable Design Competition in Italy, being nominated a WNY Woman to Watch, and winning second place at 43 North’s Minority Business Competition. She serves on the City of Buffalo’s Common Council Minority Women Business Enterprise Task Force, Chairs the Buffalo & Erie County Food Policy Council, and is a director on Erie County’s Soil and Water Conservation Board.
Emphasizing the importance of food in achieving optimal health, Allison urges everyone to take more responsibility for their own wellbeing, saying, “It takes hard work and planning, but you’re worth it!” She looks forward to conducting a talk and cooking demonstration at Buffalo’s 1st Food as Medicine Symposium on October 16 via Zoom. The event is free, and open to everyone.
Learn more about Urban Fruits & Veggies at www.urbanfv.com and Buffalo Go Green at www.buffalogogreen.org, where you can apply for a job, volunteer, donate, view upcoming events, and find great recipes.