Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Devon Wilson’s belief that food is medicine is reflected in his latest business venture which he is calling Farmacy.
The new business scheduled to open in June is a farmstand that will be located at Sunlight Gardens, the urban farm located on two acres at 245 N. Kendall Avenue that he founded in 2020 during the pandemic.
“When you think of a farm they almost always have a farmstand. We always wanted to have a farmstand,” he says. “ I think when we were thinking of ‘Let’s make a farmstand’ we wanted to put our own spin on it and innovate so it’s not just a traditional farmstand. It’s almost like a hybrid of corner stores and a farmstand.”
Murals adorn the Southside of two buildings at Sunlight Gardens.
Farmacy will be located in a building that is currently being used to wash and pack produce grown at Sunlight Gardens. Wilson says it will be set up much like a corner store with multiple coolers and shelf space for cold products and dry goods in a bright and clean environment.
The brick building is being renovated to house the fresh produce, eggs, milk, and ready-to-eat healthy snacks and beverages that will be among the food items available for purchase. Wilson says he is forming relationships with local growers and food entrepreneurs whose products will be among the inventory lining the farmstand shelves.
A farmer who grows apples and an organic farm in Battle Creek where potatoes are grown are among the suppliers to Farmacy. Wilson says he plans to tell this story through promotions and fliers.
Devon Wilson, right, and Jerry Olds pose for photos inside a hoop house at Sunlight Gardens.
“We’re going to make it clear where the food is coming from and the other farms that are supplying it. There are a lot of products out there and people making them with the intention of making them healthier and tasting delicious,” he says. “We’re standing behind the fact that these things are healthy, but taste good and also are affordable and that will be our goal. It’s the trifecta of healthy, flavorful, and affordable. My passion is to make everything you’d normally
find at a corner store with a healthy and real ingredient option.”
These products will be sold alongside the seasonal vegetables grown and harvested on the Sunlight Gardens property that includes greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, micro-greens, zucchini, and squash. This produce is sold at farmer’s markets and purchased by local restaurants and nonprofits.
“That’s another reason Farmacy is so important. This will be the first time we’ll be able to sell produce right on our property,” Wilson says. “We will be planting more this year and have increased the amount we’re producing. We’re looking to expand our growing capacity as well. Ever since the pandemic, there’s been a big demand for fresh produce. People are opening up themselves more to local food and wanting to know where their food is sourced.”
Devon Wilson examines a tomato plant inside a hoop house.
Wilson became one of those people after watching both of his grandmothers deal with the impacts of diabetes. He says as his awareness about the connection between food and health was heightened; he started to notice people who were obese and malnourished. He concluded that “we were surrounded by mediocre, low-quality food.”
The fallout from the choices people make to eat fast-food versus healthier options manifests itself in low energy levels in both adults and children. Wilson says young people don’t have a lot of exposure to different types of foods or where that food comes from.
“I saw it manifesting in the health of the people around me,” Wilson says. “People around me were dealing with large health issues that could be directly tied back to the food they were eating. People are obese and undernourished. The food available to us is not nourishing, but it is making us full.”
Devon Wilson takes a photo of a nesting robin inside one of the hoop houses at Sunlight Gardens.
He founded Sunlight Gardens after seeing a need in the community for better food. “It was really as simple as that,” he says.
The hidden cost of empty calories
Among the mantras at Sunlight Gardens
is “Food is medicine.” Wilson says there’s no doubt that “you are what you eat.”
Sunlight Gardens has support from the Kellogg Company, the United Way of South Central Michigan, and Kellogg Community Credit Union. Wilson says he is accepting monetary donations for Farmacy.
Plants grow inside a hoop house at Sunlight Gardens.
“What you’re putting in your body is so huge,” he says. “Youth are having health issues at a younger age and I think it’s because of the carelessness of our food system and the way food is produced. It seems like the quality has been lost and that’s what Sunlight Gardens represents. We’re bringing back quality food that you can eat and feel good about.”
While there is a widespread belief that eating healthy is more expensive, Wilson calls that a myth that has been reinforced by studies conducted by higher education institutions, including Harvard and Tufts universities.
The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones, according to new research from the Harvard School of Public Health
(HSPH). The finding is based on the most comprehensive examination to date comparing the prices of healthy foods and diet patterns to less healthy ones.
unlight Gardens is an organic farm in the Washington Heights neighborhood.
“People often say that healthier foods are more expensive and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits,” said lead author Mayuree Rao, a junior research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology
at HSPH. “But, until now, the scientific evidence for this idea has not been systematically evaluated, nor have the actual differences in cost been characterized.”
Wilson says it is possible to prepare large meals inexpensively. As an example, he says, a potato lentil soup that would feed 10 people costs about $20 which is comparable to what it could cost to feed a similar number of people at McDonald’s.
“It’s more expensive if want to eat salmon and broccoli. You might be paying a little bit more for the upfront costs, but what’s more expensive, eating healthy or paying medical bills and not being able to work and earn money? I watched my grandma lose her vision from diabetes,” Wilson says. “You’re investing in your health when you eat well.”
Devon Wilson is the owner of Sunlight Gardens in the Washington Heights neighborhood.
For those who are financially challenged there are programs available designed to offset the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables. In Michigan, these programs include Double Up Food Bucks
which enable the use of food stamps to double the money spent.
“There are a lot of programs like that aren’t really talked about or promoted,” Wilson says. “At Farmacy we’ll be at accepting a multitude of these types of assistance programs making fresh food more accessible to the people who need it most.”
He says he is trying to give people the opportunity to have a relationship with their food that he didn’t have growing up.
“Being able to take pride in what you eat and growing something that tastes delicious and is really good for you is so important. You gather with people you love and it’s nourishing them,” Wilson says. “Growing your own food is a form of taking your power back and being able to take control of your life and increase the quality of your life.
"I tell people to try a homegrown tomato versus one you get at the grocery stores or milk from a local farm rather than a conventional store. The difference is so profound. Our mission is to increase access to local food and inspire the next generation of farmers.”