When she turns 75, Zatima Brown vows to put her agriculture degree to work. Her eyes crinkle when mentioning the farmland she’s been eyeing in Nelson County and how one day, it’ll be part of what she passes on to her six children.
But for now, the Brooklyn native happily stands at the helm of River City Market, Brookland Park’s newest grocery store that offers natural, Virginia-grown produce.
Even before opening May 11, Brown’s homemade veggie burgers, blackberry jams and herbal supplements — sold under her company True Seeds, LLC — were hits at farmers markets.
Now she’s excited for people to have access to her food more than just one day a week.
When she was raising her kids in Highland Park nearly 15 years ago, the closest grocery store options were a Walmart or a Food Lion, which were always outside of the neighborhood.
“All of us don’t have transportation,” she says. “It takes me two or three minutes to get here but that’s with my car. … Imagine walking from my home to Kroger. Oh, that’s at least an hour walk.”
After downsizing and moving back to the neighborhood, Brown made it a mission to become certified to accept electronic benefit transfer, a card for low-income people to purchase food using the supplemental nutrition assistance program, known as SNAP benefits. She explains that the community is diverse in terms of income, which is why it’s important for her to keep River City Market affordable.
A tour around the few hundred square feet that make up the space gives quick glimpses as to how Brown achieves this: Almost everything is local and targeted to customers.
She’s surveyed the people in the community on what they want to see in the store and her partnership with Shalom Farms allows Brown to stock the produce section with what the neighborhood needs rather than buying in bulk. Currently, it’s stocked with a shipment of kale, carrots and mangoes brought in Tuesday.
When she points to her section of staples consisting of various seasonings, local rice and pancake mixes, she gets excited about how a local resident who makes hot honey suggested putting it on chicken. When mentioning a local producer whose carrot cakes are constantly being sold, she begins laughing.
“Of course everybody loves them!” she says. “This shelf goes consistently.”
Mike Hatcher, the owner of Michaela’s Bakery across the street, comes in for some peaches as Brown mentions the time someone told her to have workers of “lighter complexion” than Brown, her family or other people of color.
When Brown asked her why, the woman said “people like to see [then trailed off].”
“I did take it as somewhat of an insult, but one thing’s for sure,” says Brown, who’s also the student director at Muhammad University of Islam on Main Street and proudly wears a headpiece she calls a half-moon for its shape. “Why wouldn’t I want the public to know it’s me here? Give them the option to spend time with me and see that I’m nobody to be afraid of. Why not?”
River City Market
16 W. Brookland Park Blvd.
Mondays - Fridays 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Saturdays 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Sundays 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.