Princess Titus is not one for barriers: not racial, not cultural, not economic.
Not even a strong fence separating her from Miss Little Bit’s South Side Chicago garden could keep Princess from doing what she had to do. On the Fridays of her childhood, that meant nimble climbing to contribute to the neighborhood meal.
“My mother had me jump that fence to grab green tomatoes,” Princess remembers. “Miss Little Bit said we were always welcome, and she gladly shared her garden. I know why: because with those tomatoes, we got to cook and eat and talk together.”
Duty and resourcefulness followed Princess long past those Friday night fish fries. She still remembers the perfect way to pick those green tomatoes (with a twist), and how to slice them thin.
As co-founder of Appetite for Change (AFC), a north Minneapolis non-profit that forges ties between food, fellowship, entrepreneurship and health, Princess still feeds others: “Food connects us on a basic human level; food is part of our healing.”
Princess acknowledges that trauma has hit the black community hard, and she has known profound loss and tragedy herself. In 2010, a stray bullet near their home killed her 16-year-old son, Anthony. She says, “half of me left when Anthony left.”
To heal, Princess took solace in the garden and in the kitchen, two places Anthony excelled. “Word came to me that I had to eat better and not let my garden wither,” she recalls. She internalized the benefits of paying attention to “food, to nature, to the vibration of this earth.” As a mother and a daughter, she “had long been a human resource to others. It was time,” Princess decided, “to be a human resource to myself.”
As the personal healing progressed, Princess partnered with Michelle Horovitz and LaTasha Powell in 2011 to bring urban agriculture, social enterprise and a focus on community cooking to North Minneapolis. The trio – Princess describes them as “a recovering lawyer, a Chicago refugee, and a north sider” – intuited that their North Side neighbors needed a venue for all things food.
“We knew that we knew a lot,” Princess offers, “but we knew we didn’t know enough” to solve the many issues facing the community. “We needed childcare, we needed food, and we needed social justice.” Solutions were not immediately evident, but “we knew how we felt when we cooked together.”
Princess and her cohort hosted 8 community meals to identify challenges and to consider ways the community could solve issues together. “We didn’t want to bring the ‘I get to talk’ narrative,” Princess explains, noting how often “experts” bring stakeholders together not to talk with each other, but to be talked at.
They brought local history with them, too, and they asked tough questions: “When [North Minneapolis] was a Jewish neighborhood, there was better food,” they offered. “When the black people moved in, the fast food, fried food, and liquor stores came in. Why is that common in black neighborhoods?”
About 400 neighbors join them during the initial gatherings, meeting face-to-face, sharing sustenance and connection. A myriad of issues were discussed, but the abundance of fast food restaurants along Broadway Avenue (38) and the absence of a single sit down restaurant near by was a concern. The food available was killing them. Sugary, salty and fatty snack foods at the local Cub Foods market outnumbered similar offerings in the chain’s suburban outlets.
The trio asked their community, “Is [the junk food] here because we eat it, or do we eat it because it’s here?”
The women dug deeper, investigating personal habits, cultural norms and choices: “Who cooks food at your house? Who is involved in food? How does it make you feel?”
They recorded their neighbor’s responses, and got to work.
Princess and her partners designed Appetite for Change to be a disruptor, an incubator and organizing force: a fertile field where education, experience and advocacy lead to change.
Growing capacity – through a love of real food, home grown and home cooked – is the founding principle: “We knew we could be the bridge between ‘don’t eat this’ and ‘do eat this.’ We wanted to teach people in the city how to grow vegetables, how to prepare them, how to commune around food,” Princess says with a nod.
“We do not let ‘Food Desert’ define us,” she says, invoking her barrier-busting inner warrior. “We did not want Appetite for Change to impose more on the people who had already been imposed upon for so long. At AFC, we give people license to dream and imagine, to make different choices and to ask: ‘what do I gain or lose if I do this? What do I gain or lose if I don’t?’”
AFC hosts programs in their Broadway Avenue North location: Community Cooks Workshops and Urban Youth summer camps for teens. Partnerships, advocacy and policy change through Urban Agriculture, Fresh Corners Initiative and the Northside Fresh Coalition. AFC’s social enterprise supports Kindred Kitchen, a commercial kitchen that serves as a food business incubator, and Breaking Break, a popular café that not only offers job training, but serves up hearty breakfasts, fresh salads (no deep fryer here), and house made lemonade. It is such a popular lunch spot that the open tables can be hard to find.
Proud of the way AFC’s food enterprises support the local economy, Princess asserts, “Ours is a leadership model that is both of the neighborhood and skilled.”
Building sustainable economic and health equity for her neighbors is hard work, and Princess acknowledges the push and pull of her effort: “Doing all we do demands our best self,” she says. “Let’s feed that.”
Princess rejects the narrative of scarcity for North Minneapolis, knowing her neighbors are wise, capable, and activated. At Appetite for Change, she says, “We get to discuss and seek our own solutions. We empower ourselves when we choose our food differently. We challenge individuals and ask, ‘What change are YOU hungry for?’”