Nourishing A Dream: Artist & advocate Quianah Upton raising funds for black-owned greenhouse cafe

Quianah Upton (Photo by Maggie Kane)

One year after its launch, a crowdfunding effort to build a black-owned greenhouse eatery with a social mission continues forging ahead.

Artist, event producer and social justice advocate Quianah Upton is raising money to build Nourish Botanica, a lush dining cafe inside a greenhouse.

Plans are to serve Caribbean and Southern plant-based foods and beverages created from blends of flowers and herbs grown on site. The greenhouse will also operate as a nursery, with plants and flowers for sale.

“We want to provide access to fresh, healthy food and that is our way of [fighting] food injustice and food in-access,” Upton said.

She said the eatery will provide a physical platform for herself and other advocates to “continue education on food apartheid, fundraising for food justice organizations and decolonizing the food system by returning to our ancestral knowledge.”

Over the past eight years, the social entrepreneur has held more than 20 food justice-based dinner parties through her Nourish in Black initiative, which features panel-based dialogue around art, storytelling, gentrification, food sovereignty and justice issues.

Now, supporters are working in a variety of ways to help Upton achieve her dream.

Nourish Botanica’s Go Fund Me campaign raised $60,000 within 86 days of its July 2020 launch.

To date, the campaign has raised $70,000 of its $200,000 goal from more than 1,100 individual donations, and Upton has assembled an all-women, pro bono collective of architects and designers for the project.

She used some of the money raised to hire a grant writer to seek additional money, with a goal of buying land for the cafe by winter 2021 and breaking ground in summer 2022.

Photo by James Carr

In the meantime, the Decatur resident has renewed her public awareness campaign to remind the community that she’s still relying on its support.

“The reason I went the crowdfunding route is I really didn’t have any other choice,” Upton said. “I’m just like the standard black entrepreneur. … I don’t have access to loans and I didn’t have tons of money that I could just invest in taking this risk. I don’t have access to networks where I could get funding or investors or anything like that, so I just sort of reached out to my community.”

Independent creative strategist Cicely Garrett is one of Upton’s advisors.

“I thought it was a really cool mesh of retail, food, community, arts and culture in a different way than all of those things had been brought together in the past,” Garrett said. 

As for Upton’s crowdfunding approach, “We have networks but it’s not the same if you’re not coming from wealth or access that comes from traditional affluent networks of friends and family,” Garrett said. “So, I think she’s just expanding her network and redefining what is ‘friends and family’ for her first rounds of seed capital.” 

To support herself in the meantime, Upton is doing virtual events and used some of the money raised through Go Fund Me to buy a trailer she uses in her pop-up floral business. She sells fresh floral arrangements on “Flower Fridays” at local shops including Con Leche, The Little Tart Bakeshop, Hodgepodge Coffeehouse and Flora/Fauna ATL.

Sagdrina Jalal, senior director of community innovation with Atlanta’s Center for Civic Innovation (CCI), has gotten to know Upton through her involvement with CCI. She said she’s excited to watch Upton go after her dream.

“Right now, you’re really building both the interest and the anticipation over time,” Jalal said, of Upton. “I think it’s probably worked particularly well during the pandemic to be able to have this conversation and to give people something to look forward to.” 

Nourish Botanica has its roots in her childhood, as Upton tells readers on her Go Fund Me page.

“I acknowledge my relation to this work began as a girl of 11, in Stanley Terrace Projects. I am originally from the Virgin Islands by way of those projects in South Florida and I watched my mother struggle daily to put food on our plates,” she wrote.

Buoyed by her supporters, Upton is relentlessly pursuing her goal.

“There’s no way I’m going to let down all of those 1,100 people,” she said. “I’m going to figure this out.”

Learn more at nourishbotanica.cafe.