Some New Yorkers have the privilege of living in neighborhoods where green juice and made-to-order salads are abundant, but that’s not the case for residents living in certain communities.
Kiana Miles grew up in one such neighborhood: Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Her neighborhood had many fast food restaurants, but a dearth of places to get healthy snacks. It was this experience that motivated her to open a health food stand in Harlem, a neighborhood that similarly lacked access to fresh food.
The healthy food landscape in Harlem wasn’t as great in 2014 as it is now. Like her neighborhood in Sheepshead Bay, Miles recalls seeing many fast food places or restaurants selling greasy and unhealthy foods. Miles and her husband Tyrell Dixon wanted to do something about it and give Harlem healthier eating options.
“You know, they pump certain communities with things that are not nutritious. Some people don’t have a clue what is good for them. There is a lot of diabetes and high blood pressure and things of that nature,” Miles says. “When you go to certain predominantly Black communities, the health crisis is very strong there.”
Miles and her husband Tyrell Dixon decided to do something about it.
Dixon began by connecting with out-of-state farms to bring black seed watermelons — which they still sell — to Harlem. He started selling to neighbors, and by 2018 the watermelon business was booming. Seeing the community respond so positively to a healthier option led the couple to acquire a food truck, where they decided to expand their offerings to meals and smoothies.
From the corner of 139th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, Miles and Dixon sell a variety of grab-and-go meals like grilled chicken wraps, salads and an extensive selection of smoothies including “sweet greens,” which consists of spinach, banana, pineapple and apple juice.
“Our food is fresh and very flavorful. It’s not bland because a lot of times people think eating healthy equals bland. We make sure to put some type of flavor in it,” Miles says. “We do not want people to dread eating healthy.”
Miles and Dixon also ensure that all the fruit and vegetables they use are organic.
“Even when you go to the supermarket, they sell seedless grapes and seedless watermelons — that is not normal. What can grow without a seed? A lot of the [produce at supermarkets] are GMO, so it’s important to us to make sure everything we have is freshly grown because that’s not common these days,” Miles says.
Miles and Dixon have tried hard to keep their prices stable, despite inflation and the rising cost of goods. They want everyone in their community to be able to afford healthy food.
“Even if some kids don’t have the money, I tell them, ‘What do you have?’ $3? Alright, come I’ll give you a small smoothie’” Miles says. “I do that because kids need to have something that is healthy. If I turn them away, they will go to the cornerstone and get a soda.”
People in the neighborhood appreciate what Health Station offers the community. Christopher Brown has been coming to the truck for years.
“A lot of places don’t sell healthy foods, too much grease, too much pork. All that stuff is not good for you. It’s hard to find healthy food around here,” he says. “The food here is fresh. My favorite thing to get here is the chicken over rice.”
Another frequent customer is Dr. Kai Smith, CEO of the Collaborative For Better Urban Health, who says Health Station is a lifeline to Harlem.
“For the last six years I have seen this go from a table to two tables to two tables and a truck. This is one of the places where you can come and allow your body to tell you what you want,” he says. “Everything here is good. Not only does it taste good going down but it feels good going down.”
Miles is glad she and Dixon have been able to give their community the choice of eating healthy, and she hopes to remain a fixture in the community for many years going forward.
“I’m proud that we didn’t give up. People don’t see the behind-the-scenes and the ups and downs,” she says. “We are stationed in the Black community as well. We could have taken this truck somewhere else and made more money. People always ask, why don’t you go to midtown? [But we tell them] this community supports us and we are going to continue supporting them in any way we can.”