How the Austin Town Hall City Market is cultivating a taste for fresh food on the West Side

Fanya Berry, Austin residents picks out some greens from the 40 Acres stand at the Townhall Farmer's Market on Thursday, July 7 | Credit: Shanel Romain/Contributing Photographer

After a long weekend selling produce at the Soul City Community Market, 5713 W. Chicago Ave., Liz Abunaw thanked her staff for all their hard work.

Abunaw, the founder of Forty Acres Fresh Market — a grocery startup that sells fresh produce at affordable prices, so that residents on the West Side access healthy food — said during a recent interview that the popup market on Chicago Avenue was busy before the crowds tapered off.

“It’s important for things to pick back up,” she said.

And that’s more than rhetoric. Abunaw is in the process of opening a permanent storefront location at 5713 W. Chicago Ave. in Austin. Work on the space is expected to start later this year. Abunaw hopes to open sometime in 2023.

There will be a lot riding on the location. After the closure of numerous grocers in the last few years, including the sudden departure in February of Save-a-lot at 5555 W. North Ave., Forty Acres will be one of the only brick-and-mortar stores where West Side residents can purchase affordable fruits and vegetables.

And if her store is to work, Abunaw said, the community will need to support it.

“If investors see in the numbers that there is buying power in a neighborhood, they will come,” Abunaw said. “When the numbers don’t reflect the opportunity, then they won’t.”

Abunaw said that the various popup markets Forty Acres hosts are ways to both test the strength of that local buying power and to enhance it by cultivating regular customers who will have already established a relationship with the Forty Acres brand once the permanent store opens.

““Come out and support the pop-ups and markets in the meantime,” Abunaw tells residents. “Sign up to get produce delivered if you can’t make it out. Start taking steps now that will make it easier for you to become a regular once we open our store and so we can stay in the community.”

That message seems to be resonating with some residents like Janaiya Adams, of Austin, who attended the Austin Town Hall City Market, a summer farmers market for the West Side held each Thursday through October in the courtyard of Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.

“I heard they were doing this last year, but I didn’t come at the time,” she said. “I don’t know, I just wasn’t sure what all it was. But then I saw they were doing it again this year, so I came to check it out. It’s cool they take LINK. I didn’t know that, so I’ll be back next time with my card.”

“People act like Austin doesn’t want fresh food,” said Austin resident Amina Holcomb. “We do. So, I come to support Liz, so that her people can keep doing stuff like this.

“I buy a lot of the fresh fruit and I grab greens and stuff like that for my mama. She’s old, so she can’t make it out, but she likes the produce. I come when I can. I can’t make it every week, but if I’m free I try to stop by and show some love.”

While Forty Acres manages the Austin Town Hall City Market, the initiative is sponsored by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

Nona Ethington, the Garfield Park Community Council’s garden network project manager, said the affordable fee attracted her organization to the market. They were selling greens for $2 a bundle, honey and jams.

“Some markets have pretty expensive vendor fees that we just can’t do,” she said. “This one was super affordable, plus we love what Liz and Forty Acres are doing, so we’re happy to come and support that.”

Lindsey Collier, a butcher and market operator for the Chicago Meat Collective, said she supports Abunaw’s mission.

“We’re a woman-owned business as well, so we love supporting other women,” Collier said. “We’re excited to help build up this market and get fresh butchered  meat into Austin.”

The Austin Town Hall City Market is held at Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake St. 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., every Thursday through late October. Click here for more information.