Delivering Free Smoothies, Activists Blend Nutrition and Social Justice

HYBEAMS is a nonprofit program with a mission to teach people about nutrition through smoothies.  (HYBEAMS)

HYBEAMS stands for “Heal your body, energy, attitude, mind, spirit.” How, exactly? Through something as simple as a green smoothie. The project is an initiative of Bay Area food sovereignty organization Planting Justice, which creates green jobs for people transitioning from prison. HYBEAMS started in January with a mission to teach people about nutrition while handing out free smoothies made from produce from the Planting Justice nursery.

The founder behind The Electric Smoothie Lab Apothecary, Kelly Curry, was tapped to train the staff. Every Monday became their nutrition and healing day. Then March came. “We had to sit down and talk about whether we were going to go out and do our healing booth,” says Curry. “All the schools we worked in were shut down. So everything was sidelined.”

After coming together, they decided to go to food banks in Oakland, San Francisco and the greater Bay Area to help develop a protocol to deliver smoothies that way. (Since the start of the pandemic, Bay Area food banks been a crucial resource for financially stretched families, with Alameda County Community Food bank distributing more than 4 million pounds of food per month.)

People from HYBEAMS in masks smiling and giving thumbs up
The HYBEAMS Travel Street Team (Kelly Curry/HYBEAMS)

“There was this one mom with her daughter back in March,” remembers Curry. “This was the first day we did it, and I was just out there with our jar. And this little girl was like ‘Mommy, they have smoothies!’” Curry says that food banks don't always have fresh food items. It’s more common to see things like cereal and canned goods, so having that reaction from the little girl was really lovely for Curry. “The mom was like ‘Oh my god, I’m so glad there’s something local and fresh,’ and that was it for me. I was like, we got to keep doing this,” says Curry.

Part of that “keep doing this” was going on a Southern California tour, which wrapped up on Oct. 9. The HYBEAMS team wanted to reach people like farmworkers and nurses and help them protect their health through nutrition.

Members of HYBEAMS toured all through Oxnard, Ventura County and other parts of Southern California to make connections and expand their education program. One of their first stops on the week-long tour was at Gusto Bread in Long Beach. The bakery has a lot of customers who come to pick up loaves every day. “They wanted to know what we were doing and why we were giving them up for free,” says HYBEAMS member Yenni Copto. “I wasn't expecting that, but I knew it was coming, so I had to improvise.”

During the tour, they gave out about 1,000 smoothies. Copto has first-hand experience on how a simple drink can help people nourish their bodies. She started making smoothies for her 9-year-old son, who doesn’t like to eat vegetables or fruit. Now he asks for them every morning. She hopes that the same thing will happen as a result of talking to people on the tour.

Curry hopes that this the first tour of many in the future, and is looking for creative ways to expand the program, such as training farmworkers to use unsellable produce for smoothies.

“We‘re really reinvigorating and trying to reshape the food system,” says Curry. “I’ve always felt that with the food justice equity world in the Bay Area, it’s kind of like a bottle neck. We need to move it down to the rest of California. You’ve got the farmworkers who grow so much of the nation’s food, and they couldn’t afford to buy a smoothie at a lot of places.”

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