At just 22 years old, Mykela Jackson is becoming the change she wishes to see. She founded the plant-based pop-up Keiko’s Kitchen and the healing herb business Keiko’s Electric Herbs in 2018. Since then, Jackson has been part of a local movement to introduce plant-based foods and wellness practices to North Minneapolis and beyond.
As a Black woman, Jackson has recognized the overwhelming food inequalities in Minneapolis. Some have labeled North Minneapolis a “food and wellness desert—an area where access to fresh ingredients and support for healthy lifestyles are limited. Until 2017, there was only one full-service grocery store in the area.
The Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) estimates that $7 million per year on food is spent outside of the neighborhood. North Minneapolis is also saturated with fast food options—there are more than 30 fast food restaurants on Broadway Avenue alone, according to the nonprofit Appetite for Change.
“There’s a reason there aren’t co-ops in minority neighborhoods,” Jackson says.
Meals Jackson serves at Keiko’s Kitchen are inspired by cuisines from around the world and her Southern roots. She offers plant-based “comfort food” options that also follow the alkaline diet—focusing on foods that are low in acidity. But ultimately, her creations have no labels other than “food that tastes good and makes you feel good.” She wants to move past the often white-washed representations of veganism and the stigmas around plant-based eating in her community.
With an energizing new collaboration in the works, big changes are coming. The Black Enrichment Collective, a group committed to education, providing plant-based options and uplifting Black businesses, is just the latest step toward a healthier and happier Minneapolis community.
At its center is Jackson and two other local Black female business owners. Nyamweya Moturi, 24, is owner and operator of ÑYUM, a plant-based pop-up kitchen that launched in 2019. The collective’s third member, Sierra Carter, is the founder of The Zen Bin, a North Minneapolis-based wellness collective that hosts cooking classes and even has its own brand of pressed juices called Zen N’ Juice.
A “sacred sisterhood”
All three members of the collective were introduced a year ago by Ann Fix, an advisor at NEON, a nonprofit business development organization focused on building wealth for low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs.
“They had different concepts but a similar grand vision,” Fix says. “I helped to plant the seeds and water them, but really, [the collective] is the driving force behind this.”
The Black Enrichment Collective has quickly become a supportive environment—the members uplift each other in their personal business ventures and as a collective. Jackson, for example, created an online fundraiser to support Keiko’s Kitchen and the startup of the collective.
Since meeting, Jackson, Moturi, and Carter have been holding regular planning discussions on the future of the group and holding pop-up events with food from Keiko’s Kitchen and ÑYUM at various community events in the Twin Cities.
“There are so few [Black women] out here that it’s not about competing, it’s all about getting more of us to do this work,” Moturi says.
Carter calls the group a “sacred sisterhood” with a purpose that’s much bigger than just the three of them. Fix has witnessed already the positive ripple effect the collective is having.
“Putting them together in a collaborative way has turned out to be amazing. It’s a lot easier to make these big visions come true when you’re doing it with like-minded individuals than on your own,” she says.
The power of healing
At a time when the Black community in the Twin Cities has experienced intense trauma following the police killing of George Floyd, the Black Enrichment Collective has a mission to heal. According to Carter, food is fellowship—and it has the power to change lives.
In North Minneapolis, meat is at the center of most meals, Carter says. But the Black Enrichment Collective believes in a balanced diet’s holistic healing potential. For Carter, switching to a plant-based diet marked an important turning point in her life.
“I used to be unhealthy mentally and emotionally. I switched to a vegan diet based on a friend’s recommendation and it literally changed my life,” she says. “My anxiety, my depression, my body—everything started changing. It’s been something so healing, so I want to continue this work.”
Consuming a plant-based diet also had a profound effect on Moturi. After experiencing racial trauma and an encounter with excessive police force during college, she started eating whole plant-based foods as a form of recovery.
In response to the Minneapolis uprising against police violence and racism, it was the Black women who truly brought the community together to heal, Moturi says.
In just one week, a team of five Black women, including Moturi and Carter, held “#Heal Minneapolis,” an event in early June that promoted self-care, healing, and community. Moturi prepared hundreds of free meals for the occasion, whipping up plant-based acai bowls, grain bowls, and tacos—finishing them off with ÑYUM’s bright green labels.
“We sacrificed our own time and mental health while we were also hurting to do this for our community,” Moturi says.
As the collective considers the future, the mission of education around food and wellness and expansion are at the forefront of the women’s minds. They dream of eventually owning a building housing a cooperative workspace, kitchen, café, and community garden in North Minneapolis.
But as young entrepreneurs—all under 30—starting a visionary new project has presented some barriers. NEON, which once was able to support food entrepreneurs with access to a commercial kitchen, no longer has that ability, says Fix. The women’s individual businesses also often operate on a free or “pay what you can” basis, which provides an incredible service to the community but sacrifices funding.
“I was scrounging up money and getting donations in order to do these pop-ups for free. I was like, ‘Okay. People want my food and I want to work with other people to create these events, but right now, I can’t do any of that if I can’t pay my rent or feed myself,” Jackson says.
An important piece of Moturi’s path forward means acknowledging her roots. She has a lot of admiration for her parents, who grew up living off of the land in Kenya.
“African history hasn’t been taught here. I want to make the connection that we have always been plant-based people and we’ve always lived off the land,” she says. “And I want to remind people where we come from.”
At a recent pop-up, Moturi convinced a skeptical passerby to try her lettuce-wrapped taco. He was shocked by how delicious it was and even more shocked when she told him it was made entirely of plants.
“We almost won’t take no for an answer,” she says. “We’re young people just ready to see things change.”