AWESOME PROJECT: Juicing it up for Cleveland food justice

Bianca Butts, an entrepreneur and resident of the Buckeye neighborhood of Cleveland, has long volunteered her time to a local nonprofit called HEAL: Healthy Eating, Active Living. HEAL is a community-led movement that works to make healthy eating and active living integral parts of the culture of Buckeye, Larchmere, and Woodland Hills. One of the greatest roadblocks the organization faces is that it is still simply too difficult to get fresh, whole foods and healthy prepared foods in Buckeye.

“So we’ve altered the behavior of residents – great!” explains Butts. “We’ve got people who want to be healthy and active and they want to eat well, but they don’t have anywhere to go get healthy food in their neighborhood.”



five a day for a great mood

First order of business, she decided: fruits and veggies! “I was reading a lot of books that talked about how uptaking your fruits and vegetables, natural whole foods, could really help naturally alter your mood, as opposed to taking pharmaceutical pills, which offer some relief but they also come with a host of side effects,” says Butts.

She started setting the time aside to make fresh, not-too-sweet, vibrantly-colored juices for herself and her roommate. They were packed with fruits and veggies – and even spices, like anti-inflammatory superstar turmeric – and when she saw how terrific they made her feel, she knew she had to share her new knowledge with her community.


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and even in a food desert?

The Buckeye neighborhood of Cleveland is a food desert, which means that local residents don’t have reliable or sufficient access to fresh produce and other healthy foods. Buckeye’s main drag is lined with fast food joints, and grocery stores are shuttering their windows; you have to work hard to eat healthy here.

“Juicing was working really great for me,” explains Butts, “but living on Buckeye I could see the trend. I would juice at home, but every once in a while life gets in the way, and you haven’t gone to the grocery store. That’s when you want to run out and grab something on your way to work. And I could never do that in my community. And I got frustrated, and felt that why do I have to leave my community to access healthy food?”

One Business Administration masters degree, one entrepreneurship class, one merit-based free pass to a local food business incubator program, and a few taste-tasting parties later, Butts had her answer. She didn’t have to leave her neighborhood; she had to be the change she wanted to see. And her neighbors were ready for it. Even kids, when she gave out free samples at community events, came back for more. They asked questions. They said it was tasty. They wanted to know what turmeric was.

Today, Ujima Refresh, a juice company whose label states that it’s “Buckeye born, Buckeye bred,” is nearly off and running. This is not your $15, designer juice. It’s reasonably-priced, supremely fresh, healthy nectar for those who’ve never tasted truly fresh juice before. Juice that’s not off-putting to the palate of a novice who may have grown up on fried foods.

“Ujima is a Kwanzaa principle that you reflect on in preparation for the New Year,” explains Butts. “Ujima is the third principle of Kwanzaa, and it is collective work and responsibility. My premise in naming the business Ujima Refresh is that it is our collective work and responsibility to refresh our community. I’m just taking the angle of healthy food. That’s just my angle.”


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where to from here?

Butts recently wrapped up a super successful ioby campaign that will fund three upcoming educational community popup juice demos. Keep an eye on Ujima’s Facebook page for up to date info on these events, the first of which will be in February.

Meanwhile, Butts is actively searching for a retail space in Buckeye, and aims to have one secured by the end of 2017, leading into Kwanzaa. Ideally, the business will move into one of Buckeye’s vacant storefronts, serving up commercial vibrancy, employment opportunities, and local pride along with its delish juices. Production space is also on the to-do list, and Butts is currently seeking investors, as she works on developing a business model that will include a bottle return deposit program, on-site composting, energy efficient appliances and lighting, and, of course, local sourcing of fruits and vegetables.

All of which makes those juices sound even tastier to us.


Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Do you have a project in mind for your neighborhood? Hesitating on getting started, because you need a green light from city officials, and you’re loath to ask? Fear not! ioby Action Corps is here! Click over here to learn from the pros about “getting to yes” with city officials. If they did it, so can you.