Olympia Ausset has always been a provider. From a young age, she would spend hours a day on the bus traveling to organic supermarkets to bring back healthy, organic food for herself. She noticed early on that the neighborhood where she was born and raised, South Central Los Angeles, was something of a “food desert”—a term to denote a place where fresh, healthy food is largely inaccessible or unaffordable. Olympia was quick to make the connection between organic food and good health, and she began to wonder how she could bring this food to everyone in her neighborhood, not just herself and her family. The first seeds of an idea began to form in her mind: clean, organic, affordable produce. For everyone. This was her vision. This is her calling.
When did you first learn about wellness and organic food?
I learned food was a vessel for either mass destruction or collective healing in my college years while attending a “Power Study Group” at Howard University. I discovered the work of Will Allen and his million pound farm operation he developed in the middle of the city, and began helping at a community farm near me. I decided I’d give veganism a try that year, and within months went vegan and haven’t looked back in 10 years. I experienced the healing nature of food/wellness firsthand as I learned and grew, and became passionate about sharing this with family, friends and the world.
When and how did you come to realize that where you lived didn’t have healthy options?
I thought what was around me was “food.” Then I realized that everything around was heavily processed, gmo’d, and definitely nowhere near organic. That’s when I realized I live and have lived my whole life in a food desert.
For those that have never heard the term “food desert” what is that?
Well, we have one of the largest ones in the country right here in South Central. The term refers to an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, typically in low income areas. This is in contrast with an area with higher access to supermarkets or vegetable shops with fresh foods, which is called a “food oasis”.
How did SÜPRMARKT start?
In spring 2016, I was living in Inglewood and I was spending hours on the bus each time I needed fresh organic groceries. It became apparent that my problem needed to become a solution. I was tired of having to travel so far and spend so much money based on how much someone else was charging. I started to ask my friends if they wanted to go in with me to buy bulk and we could all benefit from the savings and get organic food. I also worked with a raw food company and saw how less expensive food was if you bought at wholesale, not to mention the even deeper discounts on damaged or not aesthetically pleasing produce. So in 2016 I started a grocery service, because I knew I wasn’t the only one who was tired of traveling and couldn’t afford the prices at these nicer grocery stores.
SÜPRMARKT started because I was starting to see friends and family members pass away at early ages because of preventable diseases. I knew that if I didn’t do something, I’d be attending my friends’ funerals at 50, and I wanted to prevent that.
“I thought what was around me was ‘food’..then I realized that everything around was processed, gmo’d, and definitely nowhere near organic”
Was it welcomed with open arms and open minds, or was there resistance?
We’ve had mostly positive reception. People from all over the country have reached out and shared their support for our project, telling us they are proud of us and even placing orders. On a local level, we have provided 25,000+ pounds of organic produce since starting and the people we serve are grateful to finally have an option powered by values, commitment, and the understanding and love of folks that come from the same neighborhood.
What type of support are you getting for this endeavour? Family, friends, schools?
We have an incredible volunteer team of about 10 people that makes all of this possible. Financially, there are a few grants that help underwrite the cost of affordable food and help us provide community giveaways, events, and programming, but we need more to serve at the level our community needs.
Have you noticed a difference within yourself and those you are able to feed organically?
In myself, I feel far more food secure than before. In others, I notice so many differences. I’ve watched grown-ups go from saying “What is this leaf?” to making pesto pasta at home. I’ve watched children go from begging for hot chips to begging for bananas and fresh coconuts (even if they still eat junk). Most importantly, I’ve watched members of our community transform themselves during team juice cleanses we sponsor, and go from never having juiced and having health scares young, to juicing everyday. I am in awe of the transformation we’ve been honored to witness and can’t wait to create more.
Olympia in The Lincoln Dress, Christy in The Penny Jumper
Obviously, at the root of what you’re doing is providing access to healthful foods. Can you tell us a story about a particular time when you’ve seen how this lack of access affected someone in your community’s daily life and/or health?
If you live in a food desert, you get sick and die at higher rates than your well-off counter parts. This is something I knew as a statistic much of my life, but it became real when people I knew and loved began passing away young from preventable disease. It is not a fact of life. It is an injustice and it needs to stop. People in South Central LA should not have to work harder or go farther to find healthy options in their community. South Central LA has more than 1.3 million residents and just 60 grocery stores. Living in a food desert makes you far more likely to suffer from a preventable disease. For instance, obesity rates are 25% higher in South LA than West LA and 13% higher than the county average.
My aim is to raise awareness to these disparities, so that the community can live healthier, longer lives. With a physical location, SÜPRMARKT can serve thousands of Angelenos, and have more space to pack produce boxes, be more efficient with delivery and take out - which would mean even more impact in our community.
You are an obvious beacon not only for South Central, but for all the neighborhoods that don’t have access to clean, organic food. What could you share with those who want to continue and expand on your vision?
People have reached out to us from across the world asking how they can do similar things and creating this health oasis in our ‘hood will help people elsewhere heal theirs. More than being a place for nourishment, this location will be a gathering place for learning, community, and strength that provides long-deserved access to the wellness wave other parts of society have been experiencing for the past decade.
The biggest thing I can share is persistence and a living example. Starting something from scratch has been SO much hard work and even when people weren’t sure what we were doing, we had to believe in ourselves. The thing that has brought us to this point is determination and we are determined because we care. We do NOT want to let another generation grow up with a food apartheid so giving up hasn’t really been a thing. The first step to caring is becoming informed and we have some great learning materials at the learn food section of our website.
You’ve launched an incredibly successful campaign to raise capital through Indiegogo. You plan to open the only “organic market” in South Central. What’s your plan from here? And what do you need?
We want folks in every location in all walks of life to stand up for what is right and support our cause. Everyone deserves the chance to eat healthy food and this project will help hundreds of thousands of South Central natives do that. Having a physical location will let us move from serving dozens weekly to thousands weekly and really empower us to take a bite out of food inaccess. Successfully launching this location will inspire and impact people across the country. Everyone reading can help by giving at least $12 to our Indiegogo [note: since this interview, the Indiegogo campaign has ended, but they still need support! Visit the SUPRMARKT PayPal page here to donate] and sharing with friends, followers, and influential people that can support in bigger ways.
So many people have stepped up to help us share the campaign, and back us including Roy Choi (who featured us in the Broken Bread series) and Issa Rae. As I write, we are $40k away from our goal.
Support our Keep Slauson Fresh Campaign. We are working to do something that has never been done: end a food desert. We want to open an organic grocery on Slauson Blvd in a historic location that once housed one of the area’s only health stores.
How do you honor Mother Earth?
I honor Earth by using sustainable products in my home, getting closer every day to a waste-free life, challenging myself to buy less and make my own things more, buying very little new clothing, eating a 100% vegan, mostly raw diet, and by caring about others and sharing knowledge and resources with them that can help them do the same.