An Olympian Effort: How One Woman Is Creating an Oasis in a Southern California Food Desert
Meet Olympia Auset, the woman working to increase access to fresh produce by creating South Central L.A.’s first organic grocery store.
Olympia Auset founded SÜPRMARKT in 2016 with the goal of putting an end to food deserts across the South-Central area and Los Angeles as a whole. Since then the organization has purchased the recently closed neighborhood health food store Mr. Wisdom with the goal of opening South Central’s first organic grocery. We talked with her about access to healthy food and what opening this space will do to inspire others to put an end to food inequality nationwide.
Where did you grow up? How did your personal background influence the nonprofit work you got involved in early on?
I grew up in neighborhoods across Los Angeles, from South Central to Inglewood to West L.A. I left L.A. to attend Howard University in D.C., and that is where I learned about food deserts, urban agriculture, the food system, international control systems, and injustice. Equipped with new understanding, I dedicated my life to creating media and infrastructure which lead to a better world. Before starting SÜPRMARKT, I worked at a community farm, started an online publication, and volunteered for a consciousness-raising event called the Shine.
How did the Shine Movement and your involvement there influence the work you do?
Winning the Shine On Challenge was pivotal for me. It forced me to act on my ideas on making the world better instead of just thinking about them. The challenge gave me just $400, which took not having an income away from the list of reasons why I couldn’t take action. Being intimately familiar with the challenges I faced as a low-income person, I used the funds to help others in ways I wished people would have helped me. I chose simple everyday ways of helping that everyone can engage in if they have space in their hearts to care. People were very moved by what I did and it was my first game-changing lesson in the difference between actions and ideas.
When you started SÜPRMARKT, what was your mission? How has it evolved over the last five years?
When SÜPRMARKT started, it was with the very simple purpose of feeding myself, my friends, and my family affordably. I was tired of taking two-hour bus trips just to get fresh food. I was tired of going to the grocery store and agonizing over the prices of apples and avocados. I knew that if a few folks came together and pitched in, we could make organic produce affordable. I was determined to make fresh food available to the people I loved because I started to see people I cared about passing away from preventable diseases. I knew doing something now would stop me from having to attend my own friend’s funerals at 40 and 50 years old because of the same preventable diseases. Since then, we have provided more than 70,000 pounds of organic produce to people in need across L.A. We have grown from a weekly pop-up to a pick-up and delivery service, and we are in the process of opening a brick-and-mortar.
How have you seen the culture around organic eating change since you started offering produce and healthy staples to various low-income communities?
I am happy to see more people embracing healthy lifestyles and becoming aware of how impactful food is on our lifespans and human potential. I am extremely happy to see more Black, Brown, and international vegan chefs and YouTubers come to life, and to see Black people become the fastest growing population of vegans. Entrepreneurs and residents in these areas, however, face the biggest challenges in facilitating this change. I want to help erase the barriers to better health that exist because of food deserts and systemic racism. I want to be part of a support system that helps first-generation vegan entrepreneurs in the hood get their legs and have the infrastructure and scale they need to serve and rebuild their communities.
What comes next?
Now we are raising the funds needed to finish improvements and open South Central’s first full-service organic grocery. (To learn more and donate go to suprmarkt.la/give/.)