Houston native Ivy Lawrence-Walls is passionate about food equity and access. As a third-generation farm owner, Lawrence-Walls used the skills honed by her family to help the community that raised her. Lawrence-Walls followed her passion to open Ivy Leaf Farms in 2019.
Lawrence-Walls opened her first community farm, Ivy Leaf Farms, in 2019. Hoping to use agriculture to promote food security within the neighborhood that raised her, she partnered with fellow farmer Jeremy Peaches and founded Black Farmer Box. The community support program provides locally sourced produce to residents in underserved communities. Lawrence-Walls and Peaches also saved profits from their business and opened Fresh Houwse Grocery in 2021, serving residents in the historically Black Sunnyside neighborhood of South Houston. Their goal was to provide locally sourced produce and food for residents in the area deemed a food desert by the USDA.
This week, she was announced as the grand prize winner of Revolt TV’s Bet On Black series, walking away $200,000 to continue her mission of tackling food equity and access.
Lawrence-Walls’ commitment to fostering food-secure ecosystems and advocating for food accessibility and equity garnered her national attention and support– and a spot on the show. The competition series revolves around Black entrepreneurs pitching innovative business concepts to a panel of maverick investors and industry pioneers. This season’s judges include celebrity entrepreneurs such as Pinky Cole, Bun B and Ray J.
The show is not just about monetary gain; the judges want to vet businesses that build communities, support social justice and drive cultural progress.
Blavity spoke with Lawrence-Walls about her mission to use food and agriculture to leave a lasting imprint on the intersections of equity and inclusion for years to come.
As a third-generation farmer, what made you want to continue your family’s tradition and turn it into the catalyst for your businesses?
ILW: You learn many life lessons when you grow up with 115 first cousins who love the outdoors. When the pandemic got hard, I returned to these life lessons and focused on returning home to work the land with my family and community. The land provided another way for me to feel like I was doing my part to heal the world after such a devastating realignment that the pandemic caused. Through the work and sharing of family stories, I discovered that my grandfather drove a vegetable truck during the Great Depression. I find it fascinating that history often repeats itself over 100 years later.
Along with Ivy Leaf Farms, your business portfolio includes Fresh Houwse Grocery, Kuji Kitchen restaurant and Black Farmer Box. What was the process and mission behind launching your first business, and what made you continue to expand?
ILW: Ivy Leaf Farms started with the mission of complete neighborhood wellness through food equity. Once I started growing food and creating micro outlets for distribution, I realized how far behind my community was in creating a full-circle food system. I also discovered that fresh food was only one part of giving my community a better outcome. We needed more businesses that prioritized community and well-being. Partnering with a fellow community farmer Jeremy Peaches, opening Fresh Houwse allowed us to grow our agricultural businesses and expand the community wellness outreach. The restaurant has helped us provide honest, ready-to-eat food for folks who don’t cook — creating a community ecosystem where everybody eats.
With your continued success and exposure, your work has made you a friend of the “hip-hop farmers.” What was it like merging your world with the entertainment and music industry?
ILW: Working with people in the entertainment industry has been an absolute joy. Our most significant connection is that we are humans who need and want to eat nutritious foods. Whether it’s a small backyard garden or a 100+ acre farm, the skills of working the land are all human skills.
Congratulations on your win on this season of Bet on Black. How does this impact your mission?
ILW: This win means absolutely everything. We can give our community what it deserves. We will open a larger grocery store in 2024, including a commercial kitchen for the community to turn their mom-and-pop businesses into shelf-ready items to be shipped across America. We hope it inspires people to return to building businesses within their community. This is a true testament and reward for all the hard work digging holes and feeding goats.
What was your experience on the series?
ILW: Bet on Black was an absolute blast! To have bold brands like Target & Revolt Media put the time, money and execution behind Black-owned businesses like ours was remarkable. It was more than a show. We walked away with a beautiful family and connections with the other contestants.
How does representing the Black farming community on such large platforms feel?
ILW: Agriculture has always been part of our community! It has been great to make it accessible to others. I want to inspire the younger generations to go to college for agriculture and expand the opportunities for African Americans in the business. I hope it allows people to believe in themselves, reclaim family land or purchase their own.
Unfortunately, food security and accessibility have often been issues in underserved/minority communities. How important is it for you to change that narrative? Do you think participating in a popular series such as Bet on Black is helping you do that?
ILW: I hope the narrative of food insecurity changes to reveal that in 2023, we are still discussing the lack of access to high-quality, nutrient-dense food in Black and brown neighborhoods. I also hope the narrative changes surrounding how we do business in our community. I hope there is a change in how some feel they must leave their community to open or succeed in business.
Bet on Black helped me connect with other like-minded business owners who have a passion greater than making money. Our neighborhoods need more quality grocery stores, laundry mats, car washes, daycares, housing, coffee shops, co-working spaces, etc. I hope the show leads business owners to brainstorm how to make a difference and diversify.
What is needed to increase the awareness and support of the Black farming community?
ILW: There is a Black Farmer in your area, a local farmers market, vendors, etc. If you can’t find them, look for the closest Historically Black College or University and support the future of Black farming through supporting their agriculture students. There are ample opportunities and scholarships for students to go to college for agriculture. Get your kids, nieces and nephews involved in a garden, program or camp. When we all do our part, everybody eats.
During the reveal of this season’s winner, fellow H-town native and judge Bun-B praised Walls and Peaches for having a brand that has a community aspect and “truly encompasses the Black experience.”
To view Ivy’s winning episode and stream the rest of this season of Bet on Black, visit Revolt.com.