Building Community Health and Wealth With Caribbean Flair
A registered nurse and cardiac critical care specialist, Tamika Dunkley was struck by the struggle faced by patients who were told to sacrifice the pleasure of favorite foods or risk dire health consequences. “My heart would break seeing people come in and spend months in the hospital struggling because they’d wanted to have wings and a beer just that once,” she says. “I wanted to help my patients to have food they loved, to have a better quality of life and still be taking good care of themselves. I started researching alternative ingredients.”
When her path crossed that of Martin Dunkley, who’d come to Ulster County from the Bronx to play basketball for SUNY Ulster and whose passion was food, it felt like destiny. “It had a kind of a lightning-fast rightness to it; we got together a month after our first conversation and our lives just shifted into overdrive. He was working catering and I started helping him, applying my research to the West Indian cooking he had learned from his Jamaican mom.”
The response to the flavors convinced the Dunkleys they were onto something, and they started offering vegan, heart-healthy Momma Blossom’s sauces and seasonings at the Saugerties Farmers Market. Local retail stores began carrying the line, which started with seven inventive flavors of hot sauce and various spice blends. In 2016, they decided to formalize Seasoned Delicious Foods. Tamika is President and CEO, Martin is Marketing and Production Manager, and Momma Blossom is officially Inspiration. “We have almost 60 products now,” says Dunkley. “Three lines, artisanal food-finishing products, and we’re just now adding snacks and beverages. Everything is health-based, non-GMO and good for you—for example, we’ll use Himalayan salt instead of iodized, or agave instead of sugar.”
On the last Saturday in September, the Dunkleys celebrated the grand opening of their bricks-and-mortar store in Kingston’s Energy Square, located just off Broadway at 10 Cedar Street. Besides the Seasoned Authentic Caribbean Foods line, which includes Momma Blossom’s healthy flavorings, shoppers will find the Above Earth line of natural mustards, spreads, preserves, vinegars, and oils, and the Afya Power line of healthy snacks, juices, and ginger beer. Every product is free of fillers, preservatives, and chemicals and available in bulk for restaurant and institutional use, as well as for retail sale.
“Everything is from melanated makers,” says Dunkley. “After we decided to do the Caribbean Carnival in 2017, we connected with a whole lot of like-minded entrepreneurs and decided to offer financial literacy programs. The skills you need to run a business are ones that many people of color aren’t privy to. We don’t have a lot of role models in an ownership capacity in our communities, and if you never see something done, if it’s not even part of the conversation, it can become a mental block on a level that you don’t even see. We’re trying to shift that narrative. We’ll never forget the struggles we went through getting onto store shelves.”
Historically, she says, melanated communities have been actively punished for wealth creation. “There was the Freedman’s Savings and Trust that was founded by Lincoln in 1865, then run into the ground by white directors before they finally turned it over to W.E.B. Dubois so they could blame him for tanking it. Then there was the Black Wall Street Massacre in 1921; people don’t realize how much wealth they had managed to amass before they were slaughtered. There were ten families with their own planes. The average wage in that community was higher 100 years ago than the minimum wage is today. So our thing is, if they’re not going to offer us a seat at the table, it’s time to build our own table.”
To that end, along with their financial literacy education endeavors in collaboration with Harambee and My Kingston Kids, the Dunkleys have launched Moorbusinessdirect.com, a web directory of Black-owned businesses and resources that offers entrepreneurs a simple, straightforward internet presence and those who’d like to see their dollars build melanated wealth an easy way to make that happen.
The company’s non-profit arm, SeasonedGives, was first launched to enable the company’s sponsorship of the Caribbean Carnival, an explosion of food, art, performance, and music that rocked the Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex in 2018 and 2019, benefiting the. Center for Creative Education. (The Carnival is on pause for 2020, but will return in 2021.)
Being Hudson Valley Current members, says Dunkley, dovetails perfectly with the Seasoned Delicious mission. “We believe everyone and anyone should be financially literate and stable, so it was really a no-brainer to join something so aligned with our mission and what we do. It’s invaluable to have a system setup that’s not tied to the dollar, but directly to people in the community. It’s part of the table-building process, to shift the narrative and reinvest our trust in one another.” Shoppers at the grocery store can use Currents to pay for their purchases.
The Dunkleys, proud parents of a blended family of seven who range in age from six to 25, are having a blast and constantly considering new possibilities. “We’re talking about adding a line of coffee,” says Dunkley, “and we have the absolute perfect name. Energy. I mean, here we have a store in Energy Square, we collaborate with the Center for Creative Education—they’re our neighbors here too—so why not name our coffee line after their dance troupe? We’re all about generating that sustainable, healthy energy, in every way, every day.”