More than 38 years ago “a small group of like-minded folks” got together to assure nutritious and economical food was available in their east Atlanta community. First established in a storefront near Emory, what became Sevananda Natural Foods Market moved several times before locating in 1999 to its current home in Little Five Points on the DeKalb County side of Moreland Avenue.
Today, the food co-op whose operators once made change out of a cigar box has more than 3,400 members and operates a multi-million-dollar market that’s open to the community as well as to members. It also sponsors related activities such as classes on nutrition, food safety, disease prevention and food economics.
Those who would like to explore what Sevananda has to offer have the opportunity once a month when the market sponsors a “healthy happy hour mixer.” The events include cooking demonstrations, samples of healthful dishes, entertainment and opportunities to meet staff and class instructors.
General Manager Tom Pawlenko, who has been with Sevananda a little less than a year, attended his first mixer Jan. 26. “They used to have these every month,” he explained, noting that the mixers were suspended for about a year and a half while the organization did strategic planning. “When I came on board, I started talking with the staff about what we want to do going forward. They told me about the mixers and I said, ‘Oh, yeah, we definitely want to get those going again.’”
Marketing Manager Ahzjah Simons, who is approaching her eighth year with Sevananda, called the mixers a great opportunity to interact with the community. The Jan. 26 event was at The Wrecking Bar on Moreland less than a mile from the market. A local band provided entertainment as attendees sampled such dishes as vegan shepherd’s pie.
“We vary the location,” Simons said. “It’s a way of bringing neighbors together. We also partner with the visual and performing arts community so people can experience all the area has to offer.”
Pawlenko added that the market acquires produce—most of it organically grown—from local farmers when possible. “It’s about local sustainability,” he said. “We want to support people in the community and keep dollars in the community.” He said that the fact that Sevananda is owned, used and operated by its members makes a difference in everything from what it stocks to customer service to business practices.
Members pay an annual fee, which can be split into small payments. After a profitable year, members may be eligible to receive a share of the profits.
One of the things that impressed him most when he first became acquainted with Sevananda, Pawlenko said, was the diversity of the community that supports it. “We have people of all ages and backgrounds—everybody from lawyers to street people,” he said, adding the Sevananda is more than a market, it’s a community resource.
Although Sevananda was founded as a vegetarian market, it is open everyone, Simons noted. “We have vegetarians, vegans (those who consume no animal products, including dairy and eggs) and meat eaters. Once in a while we talk about offering meat, but so far we’ve decided to remain a vegetarian market.”