Local couple provides healthy food options to community members

By Taher Zeitoun

DeKALB — Local DeKalb business Healthy AF Nutrition fights to prove eating healthy is possible through simple recipes using fresh ingredients.

Co-owners Jackie DeCleene and Adrian Lopez run the daily operations and manage the company. They started the company in July of last year and have been working to expand ever since.

Healthy AF Nutrition is a meal preparation and delivery service offering whole-food, plant-based meals to local residents of DeKalb, Sycamore and surrounding areas. The ingredients used to make the meals are bought through DeKalb farmers and suppliers. The goal of the company is to provide the community with easy methods to achieve a healthy lifestyle in a busy and stressful environment, according to the Healthy AF Nutrition website.

“We truly believe in working with the community to spread our message, and there is no better way to do that than partnering with local DeKalb farmers who grow fresh, healthy ingredients,” DeCleene said.

Carrie Sudmeier, 46, of Sycamore, said the benefits of ordering through Healthy AF Nutrition are never-ending. She said it provides individualized meals made from ingredients grown on local DeKalb farms. She also said changing her eating habits through the company has motivated her to live a healthier lifestyle without sacrificing time and money.

“I am learning about vegetables, like jicama, that I would never have known I could cook with, and [am] spreading that knowledge to my family, encouraging them to live a healthy lifestyle,” Sudmeier said.

Dan Kenney, executive director of DeKalb County Community Garden’s non-profit organization, said he plays the role of supplying fresh ingredients to DeCleene and Lopez. Kenney said his organization works with individuals with handicaps by training them to help out on the farm.

Kenney said companies like Healthy AF Nutrition play an important role because independent farmers and organizations depend on selling to local customers.

“Working with Healthy AF Nutrition provides a plethora of benefits for the local community and for the environment,” Kenney said. “The fact that they work with local farmers and organizations is better for our environment’s carbon footprint in terms of less traveling and better for DeKalb County.”

DeCleene and Lopez live together and spend most of their time cooking in the kitchen with the help of their three children. DeCleene said they changed their own diets and lifestyles to truly dedicate to their business’ motto.

Lopez said he took a nutritional course to educate himself properly on the science of healthy eating and is also working on receiving his nutritionist license to provide consultation as well.

“We believe we are the white blood cells of the DeKalb community, and we are working hard to protect the community of bad habits by providing an immune system of healthy eating,” Lopez said.

DeCleene said most people avoid eating healthy because of the time and money it takes to properly commit to it.

“A lot of the time people choose not to eat healthy because they simply don’t have the time, and we are creating healthy recipes to show them they’re wrong,” DeCleene said.

Lopez said they operate one of three local food hubs out of their garage. Anne Dudley, owner and creator of all three hubs, said the idea was to help fill the empty space in the organic food market during the winter, fall and spring months. Dudley also said it serves the purpose of orchestrating a smooth and easy way for residents to get their hands on local goods.

Dudley said Lopez and DeCleene were put in charge of the DeKalb location. She said after she met with them, she knew they would do a fantastic job of uniting the community with their common interests of organic healthy eating.

“After meeting DeCleene and Lopez, I loved their business model of only working with local DeKalb farmers and organizations,” Dudley said. “I knew they would fit perfectly with the overall strategy the hubs incorporate: the community working together and helping each other succeed.”

Monika Merryman, owner of Monika’s Organic Bakery, supplies freshly grown organic bread to the DeKalb hub. She said there is a Facebook group where orders are placed and local vendors will post what they have available; then, buyers can pick up the ingredients at the hub run by DeCleene and Lopez.

Merryman said DeCleene and Lopez are not only performing a service by operating the hub but also providing benefits for the community.

“There are utilizing their own home to provide a higher level of reachability to connect local growers and buyers with vendors, and their only goal is to provide a venue to receive healthy food,” Merryman said.

Chad Seyller, owner of Primal Rage Fitness, said he provides homegrown farm fresh eggs to help support the hub and its mission. He said he believes the hub allows for interested residents to receive fresh, local ingredients at a one-stop-shop and works toward helping the community.  

DeCleene said she wants her fellow community members to know they are not alone in the fight against achieving a healthy lifestyle.

“Coming from someone who has three kids and is spending every second of the day working, it is possible to make time for a healthy life,” DeCleene said. “We will show you eating healthy can be fun, fast, easy and efficient, all while supporting your community.”