Wacif Boosts Fresh Food Factory Owner, Amanda Stephenson’s Vision for Food Equity, East of the River with New Lending Options

  • Advancing Food Equity in D.C. with Amanda Stephenson
  • Empowering Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship with Fresh Food Factory
  • Breaking Down Inequities

Residents of Ward 7 and 8 once traveled extra miles by bus, by car or by foot, to find healthier food. Some needed to make dietary changes to improve their health. Amanda Stephenson, the owner of Fresh Food Factory, recognized this concern growing up. At just ten years old, she helped manage her family’s meat farm in Virginia. Stephenson’s father was blind and dealing with terminal cancer. Together, Amanda’s family came together to support her father to make critical health decisions that would change his outcome. Today, Amanda infuses values of equity, trust and inclusion as she solves food inequities through her food retail incubator, training ground and local, ethnic food grocer, the Fresh Food Factory. 

“Everything is preparation. Use your experience to create opportunities for other people,” Amanda said.

In 2002, Amanda moved from Virginia to the District. After living in various parts of the District, she finally landed in Ward 8. She noticed the disparity in amenities, access to healthy food options and the quality of life when she moved East of the River. She saw research that reported a decreased life expectancy for Wards 7 and 8 residents.

As she got to know her neighbors, Amanda learned that many suffered from food-related diseases and viruses, like her father did. This brought back memories of helping her father run their family-owned farm.. 

Her father was blind for most of her life, so Amanda and her family already supported her father in many ways. When she was ten years old, her father received a terminal prognosis of cancer with under a year to live. At this point, Amanda and her family took on a life-saving mission to help her father believe in his own healing and recovery, and to adjust his lifestyle habits through diet and exercise. 

The farm, which usually produced meat, began to produce vegetables and fruits to better support her father’s health and recovery. Through this lifestyle transformation, his life expectancy miraculously went from under a year – to over 18 years

Amanda shared her knowledge about food, health and wellness with her community, developing a solution to help her neighborhood overcome food insecurity. The Fresh Food Factory is a healthy, local and ethnic retail food grocer based in Anacostia. The food incubator conducts training and certifications for food entrepreneurs, and provides ethnic diversity in food selection for local residents. Fresh Food Factory also conducts agricultural and entrepreneurial training to strengthen the local food economy and to support ethnic retailers. 

“We saw it as a holistic approach to create a shift in their trajectory like my father had. I wanted them to have the same experience as my father did,” Stephenson said. 

Finding Access to Capital

Amanda’s path to support food equity in Ward 8 has not been without challenges – one being access to capital. Everyday, Wacif partners with entrepreneurs like Amanda Stephenson to address inequities in D.C., Maryland and Virginia through their lending program. 70% of small business owners reported difficulty accessing capital, in a 2023 Goldman Sachs survey. 

Wacif is a mission-driven lender that provides financial assistance to small businesses who may not have access to capital. Their lending program eliminates common barriers such as credit score requirements, and works with the unique needs and goals of the individual business owner. Term loans and lines of credit range from $10,000 to $250,000.

Amanda began a relationship with Wacif, when Wacif purchased the Anacostia Arts Center on Good Hope Road in Southeast D.C. She shared her desire to create longevity in the District, however food prices were skyrocketing and the market was inconsistent. Wacif stepped in to provide the financial support the Fresh Food Factory needed to bring her vision to life, through grants and loans. Amanda’s vision was to develop the space not just for her own business growth, but she would also house other food retailers in this location. 

“I believe that if you do God’s work, He’ll take care of you,” Amanda said.

The Fresh Food Factory now represents 47 small brands and has provided 379 training opportunities in the District. Amanda has learned to make sacrifices and continues to build a legacy for her family and for her community. Amanda charges ahead with a mission to help local, minority food retailers and create diversity in the market, ensuring all cultures are represented. 

“In our community, we know [food] is a way to bridge gaps and bring people together. Cultural expression in food is so common, it helps us create healthier relationships as a whole. When we talk about equity and inclusion, a lot of businesses are facing what I did, some have more opportunity and some have less.”

Connect with Amanda at the Fresh Food Factory by email or on Instagram @thefreshfoodfactory.