February is Black History Month, a time to reflect on the contributions and accomplishments made by African Americans in the U.S., while also recognizing that there is still work to be done to achieve racial equity. In Vermont, shopping local and supporting small businesses is a way of life. We like to know that our dollars are staying in our communities, and one fantastic way to put our dollars to work this month (and year-round!) is to celebrate and uplift the accomplishments of our Black neighbors.
The U.S. Census estimates that just 1.4% of Vermont residents identify as Black or African American, a statistic which I found to be reflected in my search to highlight businesses from around the state. Finding Black-owned establishments in Chittenden County was noticeably easier than in other counties, and many of the towns represented here are online shops, rather than traditional brick-and-mortar storefronts. This makes it even more important for all of us to do our part to support and boost the visibility of Black businesses across Vermont.
To get you started, here are 15 businesses you should check out!
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Rita Agyemang, from Lincoln, creates vibrant statement jewelry, using beads and materials sourced from Ghana, West Africa.
A resident of Fairfax, Aisha McLaren loves creating unique, handcrafted brass and copper “earrings for all.”
Souleymane Solo Sana is a traditional dancer from Mali, West Africa. Now living in Burlington, he and his wife Zyck Baggett have cultivated relationships with West African artisans to bring you hand-crafted home goods such as pillow covers, table runners, and rugs.
Kemba Russell loves vintage clothing. Based out of South Strafford, she shares her carefully curated collection at pop-ups across the state, her Etsy shop, and on the Rascaltown Vintage Instagram account.
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LOOKING TO EMBRACE SELF-CARE?
From her location in Burlington, Cait Meeks offers therapeutic Thai massage, which she describes as “an ancient healing art that combines acupressure compressions, joint mobilizations, and assisted yogic postures with energetic work.”
Stylist Cailyne Crowder has 15 years of experience in hair design. She specializes in curly hair, and in addition to being a cosmetologist, is also a licensed esthetician and makeup artist. Make an appointment to visit her in Winooski and leave feeling refreshed!
Zenbarn Farms owners Noah and Marlena Fishman bring you high-quality, sustainably-created CBD wellness products out of Waterbury. Their motto is “feel good, do good”–Zenbarn donates 1% of profits to social and environmental causes.
ENJOY THOUGHTFUL, EXCITING ENTERTAINMENT
JAG’s mission is to produce a variety of African-American theatre, from classic to contemporary. Their productions are designed to help audiences share in understanding the African-American experience and inspire compassion, empathy, love, and a sense of community.
For 2021, JAG Productions has shifted their annual theatre festival online. They will be producing a festival of short radio plays, focusing on the topic of “Love Stories.” Tickets are available now, with online performances starting February 12.
LOOKING FOR A BITE TO EAT?
Julian “Chef Jewel” Johnson brings a bit of Jamaica to Bellows Falls. She fuses traditional Jamaican flavors with the tastes of Vermont to create mouthwatering dishes. While her food trucks remain mostly parked during the colder months, Jamaican Jewelz does take orders in advance for pickup or delivery. If you live in the area, sign up for their monthly program to receive two fan-favorite meals per month delivered straight to your door!
Want to try your own hand at Jamaican cuisine? Derrick Samuels and his team in Barnet offer a selection of spices, sauces, rubs, and marinades sure to bring excitement to your dinner table.
If you’re in the mood for something warm and comforting from across the Atlantic, these two Burlington restaurants may have just what you need. Restaurateurs Leslie McCrorey Wells and John Rao partner with local community farmers to bring you fresh ingredients and help strengthen Vermont farms while creating traditional Italian cuisine.
Craving something on the sweeter side? Erica and Ed McClain celebrate their love of Vermont through decadent small-batch hand-cut donuts. They use local, farm-fresh ingredients. “Hangry,” as the McClains affectionately call it, offers delivery to St. Albans, Swanton, Burlington, and South Burlington. Pickup options are also available to those in surrounding areas who still want their donut desires satisfied!
After donuts, some may enjoy an ice-cold glass of milk. Earl Ransom and family care for over 50 Guernsey cows on their 600-acre farm in Strafford. Their products include a variety of milks as well as small-batch ice creams, made with organic fruits and other flavorings. Look for Stafford Creamery products at natural food stores and co-ops throughout Vermont and New Hampshire, including Hunger Mountain Co-Op and City Market Co-Op.
Vermont is full of hidden gems when it comes to small businesses. During Black History Month, challenge yourself to seek out Black-owned businesses in your community. Use this list as a starting point, and don’t hesitate to do a little research of your own. Community resources such as The Vermont Professionals of Color Network have compiled directories of BIPOC businesses in a wide variety of fields. Finding these little gems might require a little digging, but it will be worth it when you discover your new favorite donut, jewelry store, or takeout dish!
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