Alchemist CDC's Greenlee promotes opportunity through food … – The Business Journals

See Correction/Clarification at end of article
Alchemist Community Development Corp., which was founded in 2004, has many projects under its umbrella, all of them a part of the nonprofit’s mission to “connect communities to land, food and opportunity.” Those goals, Executive Director Sam Greenlee says, can be achieved in part by helping entrepreneurs who may be just starting out and in need of some assistance.
“They just need that helping hand for the first couple of years to get started on that, so they can start to build wealth and employing their neighbors,” Greenlee said.
Before joining Alchemist, Greenlee had been working with his neighbors in Sacramento’s Oak Park to foster a stronger sense of community in the area. He co-founded the Oak Park Fix-It Cafe, a monthly gathering where neighbors could help one another with projects like bike and small appliance repair.
Community engagement was not new to Greenlee. Initially, seeing the potential for community aid within religious structure, Greenlee pursued theology and graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012 with a master of divinity.
“The places where I had seen community work being done effectively was in congregations. That’s where I saw people taking care of one another and people running programs that met real needs in the community,” Greenlee said. “That occupied a big part of my mind. I wanted to be involved in tangibly addressing community improvement. … As I got through it, I realized there are other means out there to do this sort of thing.”
Greenlee had been working in food safety when he decided to refocus his energy toward joining Alchemist, a pursuit that would more directly benefit the community. Greenlee said much of what he learned on the job as an auditing services manager in the food safety field has been useful in his work at Alchemist, whose key programs touch on the food industry.
One of the programs where that connection may be most evident is in Alchemist’s Microenterprise Academy, which provides entrepreneurs starting out with food-based businesses training to navigate some of the more difficult aspects of starting a business, including permitting, food safety and creating a business plan.
“I think that on the entrepreneurship side especially, it fills a gap,” Greenlee said. “There’s so much potential for people to better their economic circumstances through starting and owning a small business.”
Graduates of the academy are then invited to apply for a spot in Alchemist’s incubator program, which allows a smaller group to continue to develop skills and provides access to resources like mentoring and commercial kitchen space. Both the academy and incubator are geared toward entrepreneurs from “low-income backgrounds or historically disenfranchised populations.”
Alchemist’s commitment to these entrepreneurs will soon extend beyond training and mentoring. The nonprofit is in the process of getting Alchemist Public Market, a physical hub for its programs, off the ground in the River District.
The project is ambitious: In addition to the market itself, it would provide commercial kitchen space for members of its incubator program, a small shop for community-made artisan goods, and it would be home to a small cafe with another nonprofit, NorCal Resist, providing workforce development programs.
The land for the market has been purchased, but funding for its completion is still in the works. Greenlee remains optimistic; he believes additional grant funding may come through and allow construction on the project to begin early next year.
If those programs weren’t ambitious enough, last legislative session Greenlee partnered with NextGen California to co-sponsor Senate Bill 907 authored by then-Sen. Richard Pan, known as the Local Equitable Access to Food program. The program would provide noncompetitive grants to ensure that all certified farmers markets and tribal-run markets statewide can process electronic benefit transfers. EBT cards are used to disburse funds from CalFresh, the state’s food benefits program for low-income individuals. This would help those in need of assistance in buying fresh food and, according to Greenlee, provide economic benefits to the community as well.
“There’s a UC Davis study that found that every dollar spent at a farmers market generates about $1.79 in local activity, which is well above what you find if you spend that on produce at Walmart or something like that,” Greenlee said. “So it’s really good for the local economy.”
Marlon Lara, now a lobbyist with KP Public Affairs, formerly served as a senior legislative aide in the state Senate and as a policy consultant for Sen. Pan. He worked with Greenlee on developing SB 907 and appreciated his dedication to the legislative process.
“I really believe that Sam kind of thinks locally, like what works here in Sacramento County, but also kind of thinks more statewide, more broadly about the way that we support families,” Lara said.
While the bill was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 27, the governor’s proposed 2023-2024 budget, released Jan. 10 and in the face of an estimated $22.5 billion budget shortfall, did not include funding for the project.
“We were hoping but not expecting to be included in the January budget proposal,” Greenlee said. “We always planned to recruit legislative champions for funding LEAF in the budget and that is still our plan although we recognize it will be an uphill climb.”
The Essentials
Sam Greenlee
Executive director, Alchemist Community Development Corp.
Age: 35
Education: Master of Divinity, Princeton Theological Seminary, 2012; Bachelor of Arts, Azusa Pacific University, 2009
Family: Wife Amy; two children
Career: Executive director, Alchemist Community Development Corp., 2020-present; Auditing services manager, Safe Food Certifications, 2014-20
First nonprofessional job: Mowing lawns
Dream job: Urban ecologist for restoration of the Los Angeles River
This story has been updated to include the correct year of Alchemist CDC’s founding.
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