BusinessSecrets of Nature Health Food Center to Close, Magnifying Ward 8’s Food...

Secrets of Nature Health Food Center to Close, Magnifying Ward 8’s Food Desert

Natural remedies, holistic herbs and food for the soul are always on the menu atSecrets of Nature Health Food Center. The Ward 8 store, which officially closed March29, served as a longtime local staple for residents to access nutritious food east of theriver.Understanding the dire need for healthy food options, Coy Dunston, 76, opened up hisshop in 1980 with the mission to save lives.His passion for nutrition started in 1980, as a recent graduate of Antioch Law (nowUniversity of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law).“I took a break to go home just to see my mother,” said Dunston, who was born andraised in Louisburg, North Carolina. “She was complaining about itching and had goneto the doctor.”Days later she was diagnosed with cancer at Duke University Hospital and wasreleased for denying chemotherapy treatments.“I felt an obligation to do something, I wasn’t going to wait for her to die. I startedresearching,” Dunston shared. “One day on the drive to D.C., I stopped to fill up my gas

Coy Dunston poses next to existential treatments for the mind, body and soul, inside of Secrets of Nature DC. Located at 3923 S. Capitol Street, SW, Secrets of Nature (SON) seeks to heal our communities from the inside out by retailing organic foods, supplements and books. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
in Richmond. There was a guy there distributing an informational pamphlet aboutreversing disease and how to get well.”Intrigued, Dunston attended the meeting advertised after seeing the words “Nature’ssunshine” on the paper. He was determined to learn more about the organization’smethods.“I thought ‘wow,’ this has to be a message to me. I was flabbergasted; I had not heardof anything they were talking about. I immediately got involved. My mother and I startedfasting, taking the herbs and doing the things you are supposed to do,” he said. “Shelived for 10 years after that. That’s how I got involved in this business.”Proven successful in this new lifestyle, Dunston set out on a fast track to educating themasses on healthy options, starting “Yours Naturally” on 16th and K Streets NW withthe knowledge needed to provide treatments to cure illnesses and ailments. Hepromoted a strict regimen of “no dairy, no sugar, no meat.”“But the question was ‘where are you going to get that,’” said Dunston. “This was the1980s, no one was selling vegetarian food like that back then.”“I was there about 10 years and around the eighth year I moved around the corner tothe Washington Post’s building where I saw an opportunity to open up a kitchen, my firstkitchen,” he continued.The meals created were served lovingly and filled with natural nourishment– a starkdifference from Dunston’s diet while being raised as the son of a sharecropper. Hejoyfully educated others like him in holistic nutrition for two years, until he was priced outof the building.“Everything fell apart, I had four stores and didn’t really have anybody to run them. I wastrying to do everything by myself. So, I closed them all and moved here,” he said,referencing the location he opened in 1990.After 44 years of serving the community, Dunston is experiencing the same sense ofloss.“We’re going to relocate and go into a different mode of doing business,” said Dunstonreferencing his decision to go virtual and sell items through an online shop. “Brick andmortar is okay but the landlords are out of sight and insane, I need to own my building.”

Angie “Maat” White (left) and Midwife Tomasina Oliver talk about share one last laugh in Secrets of Nature, the Southwest store set to close soon. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
Instead of his longtime routine of welcoming customers for 10 hours daily, Dunston willnow complete orders as they are received and plans to deliver food locally throughUberEats.“We need this in the community, I am not happy about this,” said D.C. resident andstore retailer Angie White, creator of Luv The Skin U In. “The store has been here forover 30 years and is needed in Ward 8. Healthy food, healthier alternatives for a more holistic living is not available. Coy offered a valuable service and product here in thecommunity.”Other neighbors have similar sentiments, recognizing that 51% of the District’s fooddeserts are located inside of neighborhoods in Ward 8, according to the D.C. PolicyCenter.“Secrets of Nature has been an asset to the community as far as herbs, vitamins andhealthy foods in a supermarket desert. It’s been an oasis for people to come here tohave conversations, meetings about community events, meditation and how to raisetheir consciousness or awareness of who they are and where they are in the city and inlife,” customer Charles Owens told The Informer.While all full-service grocery stores in the District accept the Supplemental NutritionAssistance Program (SNAP), only 55% of them accept Women, Infant, Children (WIC)benefits according to D.C. Hunger Solutions, a local non-profit organization. Manystores do not meet federal criteria for funding leaving minimal options for residents infood deserts.“Coy has been doing this for the better part of 40 years— for as far as I canremember— giving this neighborhood something it doesn’t have. Because of pricingand dicing, he’s getting pushed out,” he continued. “They should be trying to keep him.He’s an asset not a liability to this community; and there are a lot of liabilities.”As Secrets of Nature’s chief chef and sole employee for the past decade, DebraWilliams regularly witnesses the establishment’s community contributions.“I wish he wasn’t leaving because there’s a lot of people coming in who really need thisfor the herbs and especially the food,” said Williams. “I’m sad to see him go. Hopefully Ican go with him wherever he is going.”Those dedicated to Dunston’s work created a GoFundMe page so that he couldcontinue his mission. He is hopeful that those funds assist him in maintaining thebusiness during these uncertain times.“I appreciate the patriotism of people who did come and support me,” Dunston told TheInformer. “If people want to get involved in helping me build something new there is anopportunity to do that.”For more information, contact Dunston at (202) 562-0041.

Source: Washington Informer


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