Satisfying a sweet tooth with healthy alternatives
Posted on Aug 14, 2020
Sweet Valley Bakery and Farmstand owner Dr. Hamidah Sharif-Harris (right) serves 100 percent sugar-free treats to Fort Valley, Georgia, customer Barbara Humphrey.
A Fort Valley State University professor is the first African American to own an alternative sweetener in the United States.
Baking for more than 30 years, Dr. Hamidah Sharif-Harris, assistant professor of public health at FVSU, said about two years ago, she eliminated sugar from her diet. Within six months, she dropped 65 pounds.
“I was immediately able to see the benefits. I do not have prediabetes or high blood pressure. I was 42 feeling 52. Now I am 44 and I feel 24,” she beamed.
The secret is her natural alternative sweetener, Momma’s Shuga, that contains erythritol and monk fruit extract, which do not affect blood sugar levels or cause any harmful side effects. Sharif-Harris said the body metabolizes the sweetener as fiber.
Her business and health success began with a desire to transform her community by providing more access to affordable and nutritious food. After visiting Fort Valley, Georgia, with her family six years ago, they established a sweet potato and seasonable vegetable farm. Commuting from Atlanta, Georgia, to the small town to maintain the land, they officially moved to the area in 2017. The following year, the 20-year public health professional and educator began teaching at FVSU and researching food sovereignty – a community’s ability to produce and control its own food sources.
“We are a community that is rich and fertile with resources; however, we do not retain any of those assets,” Sharif-Harris said.
Her goal for the last two years was to create a Fort Valley establishment that would provide an additional avenue of healthy food options for the community. Through her research, she discovered that 10 percent of Fort Valley residents have some type of diabetes-related condition and 40 percent are obese.
“People are consuming too many carbohydrates mostly because they have less access to other types of food,” Sharif-Harris observed.
For this reason, the Certified Naturally Grown farmer recently opened a bakery for the whole family to enjoy the health benefits of her sweetener. Sweet Valley Bakery and Farmstand is Fort Valley’s only bakery and Georgia’s first 100 percent sugar-free bakery. It offers handcrafted baked pastries and sweet delights that contain zero sugar and are 90 percent gluten-free.
The Georgia Grown Initiative member affectionally termed her natural sweetener Momma’s Shuga in honor of her grandmother and mother. “I wanted the name to resonate with the community. This is a way of giving themselves love,” Sharif-Harris said.
The Sweet Valley owner said sweeteners normally leave an aftertaste, but Momma’s Shuga tastes and bakes like sugar without the calories. She worked with a food scientist at a natural food manufacturing company to develop the sweetener, which is also vegan and non-GMO (genetically modified organism).
“It took about three months to get it right,” said Sharif-Harris, pleased that Momma’s Shuga is selling across the country.
No stranger to adversity, the Harlem, New York, native comes from a family of firsts. A legacy wall inside the bakery is dedicated to her family, who are originally from Florida. Some of her influences include her great-grandfather, once the only Black business owner of an exterminating company in Tallahassee, Florida, and her grandmother, Addie Mason Moore, who was a home baker and private duty nurse. Her grandmother's recipes continue to inspire her cooking today.
In addition to providing healthy food options at the bakery, Sharif-Harris plans to use the 2-acre land as a site for local farmers to sell their crops. Other ways that she gives back is by hiring two Fort Valley natives. Kyler Palms, who graduated from FVSU in 2017 with a psychology degree, is proud to work for someone who created their own alternative sweetener. “I am here to learn and grow with her,” she said.
Taylor Sturn, who is pursuing a public service degree at Middle Georgia State University, appreciates working at a Black-owned business and learning creative and healthier ways to bake. “I feel like I am working with family,” she said.
On her second visit to the bakery, Fort Valley customer Barbara Humphrey said she is impressed that Momma’s Shuga does not have any aftertaste. The FVSU retiree and graduate, who has prediabetes, said she can enjoy good desserts without the calories.
“We are in a position to single handedly transform the health of this community,” Sharif-Harris said.
- FVSU Agriculture College