woke foods herstory

In May 2016, Ysanet Batista quit her non-profit job to focus more on work that addressed racism and systems of oppression, shortly after Woke Foods was born. Ysanet who had been cooking for most of her life and at the same time have dived into community organizing, began to see the intersection of food, health, and race, and how our current food system was negatively impacting the health of our black and brown communities. While living in Washington Heights in the apartment of her friend Heidi Maria Lopez, she started preparing foods to address these issues by offering food that was healthy and culturally relevant in the form of meal planning and catering. Woke Foods truly began to take shape with the advice, input, and word of mouth marketing of Ysanet’s close friends at the time, Heidi Maria Lopez, Luis Tapia, and Merelis Catalina Ortiz. As Woke Foods was embraced by Washington Heights and South Bronx, the need for this work became increasingly apparent and necessary. When the opportunity to enroll in Green Workers Cooperative Co-op Academy, a development program that guides and aides people of color to launch cooperative businesses, Ysanet reached out to two potential business partners to grow the business into a worker coop, Merelis Catalina Ortiz and Claudia Mena. Merelis worked in food justice and had been studying traditional Dominican food practices and connected with Ysanet in 2015 at a women’s circle gathering in Washington Heights. Claudia had worked with Ysanet at NYC Farmers Market and has successfully launched a juicing business. They started coop academy and learned about Ysanet’s goals for Woke Foods and found their values were aligned in many ways and wanted to be a part of growing the business. In February 2017, Woke Foods graduated from Green Workers Cooperative’ Co-op Academy, and formed as a green cooperative business. This piece is important to Woke Foods because the business is part of a movement that is much larger than themselves. A movement working towards food sovereignty (where all people exercise the right to control our own food systems), building a strong local economy within the Bronx and Northern Manhattan rooted in democracy and environmental justice.

Last year, Merelis and Ysanet launched an Indiegogo campaign and their people donated and they raised 2k in start-up funds. A few months, with the help of Sanjana Khan (formerly their Cooperative Developer at Green Worker Cooperatives), Woke Foods was accepted into the incubator commercial kitchen, Hot Bread Kitchen in East Harlem AND receive a loan from The Working World. Claudia Mena and Merelis Catalina Ortiz have moved on to do other work within food movement and wellness. Much of the development, experimentation, and success of the business and vision is attributed to the collective work of Claudia, Merelis, Ysanet + their friends & family.

Today, Woke Foods is ran by Ysanet Batista and employs 4 women of color. They have catered for events at non-profits, grassroots organization, social justice conferences, and even the wedding of two beloved community organizers! Recently, they were awarded a grant by Citizens Committee for New York City, to offer free cooking classes for community organizers living in affordable housing in NYC. Woke Foods has been featured on Harlem Focus via Medium, Blavity and Vibe Viva and has been named NYC’s first Dominican vegan food business.

Ysanet Batista headshot

Chef Ysanet Batista

Chef Ysanet Batista is a queer Black-Dominican woman, born in Harlem, NY and raised in between the Dominican Republic and Hialeah, FL. Ysanet graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI and spent a couple of years working in major hotel companies before transitioning to community based work. When she is not cooking or developing Woke Foods, Ysanet is helping other people start their own worker-cooperative businesses at Green Worker Cooperatives as the teaching assistant for their Coop Academy. Her passions include holistic cooking, farming, writing, community organizing, and spending time with her partner. She is inspired by the power and magic of Black and Brown people, the ocean, and the Now. She is currently a student at Farm School NYC earning a certificate in Urban Agriculture.

Ysanet loves eating Platano Maduros and talking gut health!