Public health professor’s bakery earns Best of Georgia distinction
Posted on Mar 04, 2022
Dr. Hamidah Sharif, owner of Sweet Valley Bakery and Farmstand, cuts a slice of sugar-free cake for a customer.
Not only is a Fort Valley State University professor making history as the first African American to own an alternative sweetener in the country, but she is also honored to be the Best of Georgia.
Dr. Hamidah Sharif, assistant professor of public health, opened Sweet Valley Bakery and Farmstand in Fort Valley, Georgia, during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Serving as the only bakery in the community, the new establishment provides healthy treats that are 100 percent sugar free. The secret is her natural alternative sweetener, Momma’s Shuga, which contains erythritol and monk fruit extract.
As a result of Sharif's desire to transform the health of her community, her bakery is recognized as a state winner for the 2021 Best of Georgia contest. The Georgia Business Journal presents the annual competition for community members to nominate their favorite business in various categories. Under the Food and Drink category for bakeries, Sweet Valley Bakery and Farmstand is one of six bakeries in Georgia to receive the top honor. The other two rankings are Best of Georgia Regional and Best of Georgia Honorable Mentions.
For the distinction, the public health professional will receive a certificate and plenty of publicity. The bakery will be listed in the Georgia Business Journal as well. Sharif is grateful for the recognition and for the community’s support.
“Our keto bakery on the side of Highway 96 won. It is a great honor. I wish I knew who nominated us. Our customers came through and voted,” she said. “I am completely grateful that people decided that it is possible to be both sugar-free and a bakery and that they support us each day.”
Recalling her idea of wanting to open a bakery, Sharif admitted there was some pushback to it being a risky undertaking. “The lesson for me was to always follow your gut regardless of you not being sure how it is going to work out or how you are going to get it done; just do it,” she encouraged.
Now that the bakery has outgrown its space on Highway 96, Sharif is collaborating with ITeaU, owned by Maya Hall, to open a new location, Sweet Tea Cakes, in downtown Fort Valley in the spring to continue serving healthy treats and tea. The purpose of the bakery is to provide the community with healthy options to help them reverse diabetes, lose weight or prevent chronic illness. Sharif noted between 70 and 75 percent of residents in middle Georgia have diabetes.
For that reason, she is providing another valuable and healthy alternative for citizens.
“As a result of the bakery’s success, I opened a weight loss center in downtown Fort Valley on West Church Street,” she said. “We know that the ketogenic diet, based on the studies we have seen, is one of the most effective ways of losing weight quickly and safely.”
My Keto Weight Loss Center opened in January 2022. It offers healthy eating workshops, as well as one-on-one health education sessions for citizens to learn more about other alternatives to some of the foods they are eating. Sharif added they will help customers track their weight and provide online support groups.
In addition to her mission to improve people’s health, she is also committed to training her Master of Public Health students in educating community members about healthy eating and nutrition. They will also gain knowledge of how business and community work hand in hand in public health.
“They will be peer counselors. This will give them a great opportunity to use the skills they are learning in the MPH program beyond the textbook work,” Sharif said. “Now, we have the opportunity for students to provide community nutrition and weight loss education to really help reverse the diabetes epidemic in middle Georgia.”
She noted there are other weight loss programs like Weight Watchers, however, none exist in Fort Valley. She is taking an extra step beyond just offering healthy treats by providing the community with a way of learning how to make the transition from a sugar-filled diet to a low-carb or sugar-free diet.
“The role of faculty at a university is to not just teach, but to be really engrained in the community. We have access to so much information and resources, so why not open small businesses and allow the businesses to be vehicles for student learning while also serving a community need,” Sharif said. “I can’t think of any better way.”
To learn more about the bakery, visit https://sweetvalleyco.com/. Also, the list of Best of Georgia winners is available at https://www.gbj.com/best-of/winners/2021/food-drink.
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