One of the greatest joys in life is being able to connect different parts of your world and bring them together in a meaningful way. My work here at Design*Sponge means so much to me, but there is a large part of my life that I don’t always discuss here that revolves around volunteering and activism. When Julia and I moved upstate, one of the first things we did was get involved in local food and family-related charities, like our local food pantry, a delivery meal food service and Family of Ellenville. Being of service to people in need is an important part of our lives and we’re always trying to pay close attention to see if there are gaps in service that need to be filled.
One thing I noticed across the board in our area was how difficult it was to provide healthy (or any) food to young children and their families. Most of the food that food pantries receive is past or just-about-past due, and it’s illegal for most charities to give out expired baby and toddler food. So a lot of pantries don’t stock it for that reason. Because of that, I decided to do some research to see if there were any companies creating healthy baby and toddler food that could be frozen, so it would be able to last longer on pantry shelves and help families in need. That’s when Agatha Achindu, mom, chef and the founder of Yummy Spoonfuls Organic Baby Food, came into my life.
I emailed Agatha to ask if they would consider donating a box or two of their frozen food to our local pantry and she responded with an open heart and an offer that blew me away. Not only was Agatha open to donating food, she donated an entire pallet (see us below, when it arrived!) of food that will last our entire county (not just our local food pantry) for at least three months. I was blown away by her generosity and wanted to get to know more of her story and how her company — and her mission to support moms in need (she’s donated over half a million dollars worth of food across the country so far!) — came to be. So please read on below to learn more about Agatha, Yummy Spoonfuls, and her mission in life and work. xo, grace
As a kid growing up, my siblings and I learned from our parents about serving the needy. Our parents taught us that you always have something to give, and being part of a community means helping one another. I grew up with this idea enshrined in my heart and it continues to be an integral part of my identity. Not many people know that my two childhood homes are now orphanages serving destitute children.
I have seen firsthand how many parents struggle. I have also seen that all parents, regardless of income, want the best for their children. If you think about it, childhood diseases pose a disproportionate burden for disadvantaged families. It is hard enough for a struggling family to pull themselves up, but the added burden of sickness can really exacerbate the problem. Good nutrition is vital for the success of the whole family, so that kids can grow up healthy, fulfill their human potential and break the cycle of poverty.
In 2011, at EXPO East, a representative from Feed The Children stopped at my booth. I took his information, but at that time my company was very small, and I didn’t have the capacity to donate food; but I made a promise that I would someday donate in a big way. Fast-forward to 2016, when I called and spoke with Chet Jones of Feed The Children, I said, “My name is Agatha Achindu, and I met with your organization in 2011. I am ready to donate two truck-loads of fresh frozen organic baby food for Christmas.” That was such a powerful moment, it brought me to tears.
Since then, through our Spoonfuls of Giving Campaign, we have donated over half a million dollars worth of food to the Today Show Toy Drive, Feeding America, Baby 2 Baby, Boys and Girls Clubs of Huntington Valley, California India Center, Capital Area Food Bank and your community [in upstate New York]. I believe that donating our food represents an investment in the future of society, by spreading good health.
What inspired you to start Yummy Spoonfuls? How did it come about?
I’m a wife, mother of three, entrepreneur and chef now. But the inspiration for Yummy Spoonfuls really started in my mother’s garden. I grew up in Cameroon, West Africa, on a family farm. We always ate the freshest vegetables and fruits and my mother prepared everything from scratch. This knowledge has informed my entire life. When my youngest child, Jared-Zane, came along in 2004, I realized that fresh baby food did not exist in the marketplace. I began preparing my own organic baby food in my kitchen. My friends took notice, and began asking for help. Word spread around, and soon I was teaching childhood nutrition classes and launching my own line of fresh, organic baby food.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Take care of yourself first. You will need every drop of mental, physical and emotional energy, and you will need it over the long haul.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Definitely the financial part posed the greatest challenge. I left a very lucrative career in the IT business to pursue my dream. There were other difficulties, for sure — juggling all of the tasks and responsibilities with no staff, balancing work and family life, learning the ins and outs of the business — but financing is very critical. Many start-ups struggle with this.
How did you finance your business in the beginning?
My husband and I put everything we had into the business — our entire savings, retirement, everything.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
When you need an answer, when you want to get your product in the door, don’t be afraid to go straight to the top. That method has worked over and over again — even though it has been intimidating at times.
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
It never entered my mind to work for someone else. My passion for organic baby food and children’s health drove me to start my own business, and it has been a tremendously gratifying path. I can’t imagine finding that satisfaction anywhere else.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
There have been moments when I have felt discouraged. There have been difficulties, and I’ve certainly made mistakes, but it’s all in how you look at it. I don’t really view these mistakes and difficult moments as failures — without hardship, how do you ever learn? So I would say that I have learned that attitude is everything.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I would praise and worship my God more, spend part of that time indulging myself in a natural, homemade facial or a bath with essential oils. The other part of the time, I’d spend in my kitchen with my kids. That’s where I love to be!
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
The financial sacrifice was a huge gamble. But it paid off, so I would do it again.
Part of Yummy Spoonfuls’ donation, delivered to The Family of Ellenville and unpacked by program director, Dominick.
Can you name something you’re most proud of in your business experiences?
Many people did not believe it was possible to make a fresh, healthy product like Yummy Spoonfuls Organic Baby Food commercially viable on a large scale. When our nationwide rollout in Target stores became a reality, I can say that was my proudest moment.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
The book which had the greatest influence on me and my business was Beating the Food Giant by Paul Stitt. I would highly recommend it for anyone starting a healthy foods business. Other than that, I follow the work of many creative women including Patty Rodriguez who co-founded Lil’Libros because there was nothing in the market for their children and Phnewfula who founded an eco-friendly baby boutique, Happy Mango in Atlanta. I recommend to anyone starting a creative business: find people who inspire you, and get to know their work. You need a constant refresh to your viewpoint, and the work of other successful people can help spark ideas.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
Ask yourself these questions: Are you so in love with your idea that you can’t imagine not doing it? How are you going to finance your idea? Who will help you? If you can answer those questions affirmatively, then go for it.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
For me, it is all of the many roles I play every day, and keeping everything in balance. I am a wife, mother, sister, and friend — AND a businesswoman. My family life means everything to me, but so does my work! In my mind, I am constantly prioritizing tasks — my brain works overtime! That’s something that people don’t see, but that is my reality. Honestly, I rely on my faith — prayer and meditation — to give my mind a rest, and center myself so that I can be at my best.