There’s an intolerable problem troubling South Florida — hunger. Some small business models, such as Zak the Baker, are helping to alleviate it by supporting the local economy, formulating strategies to minimize waste through community distribution, sticking to a creed of authenticity and exemplifying self-sufficiency.
According to Paco Velez, president and CEO of Feeding South Florida, the local arm of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief charity, “In our paradise that is South Florida, the percentage of individuals who struggle to put food on the table is high.” Essentially, we may appear picturesque, but that’s only an illusion, as too many hardworking residents are actually disenchanted and hungry.
In April, Feeding America and Feeding South Florida released the Map the Meal Gap and Hunger in America study, which indicated disturbing data about hunger in South Florida. The findings revealed that “13.7 percent of the South Florida population is food insecure, with 785,040 people not knowing from where they will get their next meal,” and “22.9 percent of children in South Florida are food insecure, leaving 280,630 children going to bed hungry.” Food insecurity is defined as the lack of reliable access to sufficient amounts of nutritious, affordable food.
Hunger and food insecurity correlate with poverty and deficiencies in the areas of education, health and wages. As Velez explains, the issue of hunger is cyclical. Lack of nutritious food leads to ill health, which in turn diminishes productivity, leading to decreased earning potential. Less income means less ability to purchase nutritious food. And the cycle continues. He says South Florida’s hunger issue is connected to the prevalence of low-paying service-industry jobs coupled with a rising cost of living and growing food prices. These hurt people’s ability to access adequate education and healthcare, keeping them stuck in a cycle of poverty and hunger.
So, how could a small entity such as Zak the Baker help defuse this issue?
Zak the Baker is an unpretentious bakery in Wynwood owned by a husband and wife in their early 30s. The business started three years ago in the garage of co-owner Zak Stern. Today, Stern and his wife, Batsheva, run what has become a wildly revered storefront and cafe admired for its dedication to fresh, tasty bread and other foods.
“As much as possible, we source from local farmers,” Stern says. The business’s devotion to buying local is not only palatable — you can truly taste the food’s high quality — but also contributes to fueling the local economy, creating income streams, cash flow, employment and entrepreneurial opportunity for others in South Florida. In this way, Zak the Baker’s model of self-sufficiency, as a business and supporter of local businesses, is contributing to alleviating risks for hunger and food insecurity for the families within its business network.
The business is also committed to directly improving the lives of the less fortunate. “We are responsible with our surplus, which definitely creates extra work, but you can choose to ignore it or choose to be active,” Stern says. “We choose to minimize our waste.”
Each day Zak the Baker donates all of its leftover bread to families in need. This practice, if multiplied by other businesses committing to their own forms of daily give-back, could dent the statistics around hunger, by debilitating the cycle of ill-health and food insecurity. Considering South Florida’s strong tourism and hospitality sector, many more can adopt a similar principled approach to giving.
The customer who patronizes businesses such as Zak the Baker’s is not only receiving a high quality food product, which means we are investing positively in our health, but we are also helping to popularize a culture of authenticity and innovation. The support of community-conscious local businesses creates room for the pool of such entities to grow. This equates to greater opportunity for self employment, increased earning potential throughout the community and, ultimately, less hunger.
“Zak the Baker is rooted in kindness and integrity. We’re not a mediocre business; this is more than just a job. I’m an idealist,” Stern says. “We pay attention to every single detail.”
The values of a business have an effect on the community in which it operates, whether seen, measured or acknowledged. Everything is connected.
Kinisha Correia is a blogger and writer based in Broward County.