As Americans celebrate Veterans Day, Cuisine Noir salutes two women who are military veterans and pioneers providing fresh, accessible foods to their urban communities.
San Francisco native Carlina Williams did not anticipate becoming one of the Bay Area’s answers to juicing after completing her service in the U.S. Navy. In fact, she first stumbled into her passion for combining natural herbs and produce when caring for her sick dog; her mother’s reliance and advice on natural herbs all came back to her. Williams’ dog Mitch was suffering from a vestibular disease. “He couldn’t walk and he tensed up like a person with a stroke,” Williams says. After feeding her dog the herbs, his health returned, motivating Williams to consider making juice for her friends and family. Now, the rest is history.
Williams’ business, Communion Juice, began in earnest 15 months ago with the goal of providing companies a delicious and healthy alternative to the usual fare. The business has a focus on catering to corporate clients from San Francisco down to Silicon Valley. Long-term, Williams is looking to pay it forward by opening up franchising opportunities to other veteran entrepreneurs.
Communion Juice features three juice options. Her bestseller, Pick Me Up, combines apple, lemon and ginger. This choice was originally called the Ginger Kick due to the spicy nature of the main ingredient. The antidote to the first option is Calm Me Down which features cucumber for its calming effect. The third option is Long Life, the only juice that features all green ingredients such as cucumber, lime, parsley, spinach and kale.
Williams’ journey in the Navy took her everywhere from Hawaii to Guantanamo Bay. She credits the Navy for a lot. “It’s where my adulthood was shaped,” says the mother of two. This includes preparing her for the ups and downs of small business ownership. “It equipped me with being able to face different things and know that things always go wrong. That’s what it’s really about — learning how to fix things and make them right and continue on. With my business, I know I can’t quit. I have a goal. The military gave me that.”
Across the Bay Bridge in Oakland is Kelly Carlisle who also served in the U.S. Navy where she learned some of her hardest lessons. Carlisle is the executive director of Acta Non Verba, a quarter-acre farm that educates children between the ages 5-17 about how to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables as well as sell them. Once the produce is sold, the funds are put in individual development accounts for each student. Students can participate in after-school groups, summer camps, and special sessions throughout the year.
Growing up in the Bay Area, Carlisle is very familiar with the specific challenges families face in the community, especially Oakland. Some areas in the city qualify as food deserts – areas where fresh produce is increasingly difficult to find. Carlisle started the farm as a way to provide for children of the area in a more direct way – educating them on the importance of fresh foods and veggies. The children grow, harvest, weigh and use the product to supply their small community-supported agriculture venture (CSA) for regular deliveries to community members. The offerings change by season. “ Right now we’re putting in broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, mustard greens, and peas,” says Carlisle.
Carlisle has been able to partner with Bay Area several businesses also owned by veterans. “The Farmer Veteran Coalition has been an amazing resource, not just for funding and networking, but also for friendships and learning opportunities,” she says. These friendships have led Carlisle through the ups and downs of being a small business owner. “Folks are getting more and more interested in hyper-local produce. They’re getting more interested in the youth who attend our camps and do the work and in supporting their futures by investing in this business,” she states. Carlisle reflects that one of the most challenging parts of the business is locking in a consistent customer base for the CSA.
Carlisle’s time as an operations specialist on the USS Essex taught her that attention to detail, fortitude and persistence are necessary to run her own entrepreneurial endeavor; attributes she hopes to pass along to the children who work on her farm. Her only hope is that Bay Area residents “support veterans and children.”
As you look to support veterans on Veterans Day and beyond, Carlisle says, “Hire a veteran — look for veteran-owned businesses. We’ve put in our time and we know what we’re doing.”