Velonda Anderson, Ph.D., is a native of Washington, D.C., and current Detroit resident who has been educating people and advocating for health since the 1970s. She’s served in the military, worked as a nurse and public health professional, taught fitness, and has even written cookbooks. Her latest business, Sweet Potato Delights, founded in 2013, is another way Anderson hopes to help people live healthier lives. And now it’s come to East Lansing.
Anderson told ELi that her passion for health, fitness, and nutrition started within her family.
“I am probably the healthiest person I know in my family,” Anderson said. “Members of the family – siblings, aunts, uncles – all were experiencing different things that I found to be diet-related. Going to nursing school exposed me to the thought of prevention as opposed to repair.”
After encouraging family members to make better health choices for their lives, Anderson set an example for them with her own lifestyle.
“People would do more of what they see me do than what I tell them,” she said.
So, she started transforming her family’s traditional Southern recipes into healthier versions. This hearty yet healthy cooking sparked something. While in school to earn her doctorate, fiber was a hot topic in the media in regard to a nutritious diet. Her research study group included many diabetics, so she thought about how to create healthier versions of the comfort foods so many people love.
“Americans have a love affair with potatoes, but sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber,” she said. “If I could teach them how to make the potato healthier, and satisfy the need for more fiber in the diet, then that would be a good thing,” Anderson thought.
“The answer was sweet potatoes; they have the lowest glycemic index of any potato, which is wonderful for diabetics,” she explained. “The sweet potato is such a nutrient-dense vegetable. It has lots of cancer-fighting minerals and vitamins that support our immune system. I felt like I hit the jackpot, and it took on a life of its own.”
While cooking different recipes throughout school, Anderson began getting requests to turn her samples into products that the public could purchase. After a few years, she listened and pivoted her path yet again.
After earning her doctorate, Anderson followed the path of food entrepreneurship and began working under the Michigan Cottage Food Law, making healthy foods that had sweet potato as the main ingredient. She started by selling seasonally, since sweet potatoes are most popular during fall and around Thanksgiving, but she soon received large catering requests and corporate event inquiries for her products.
She said entrepreneurship through her company Sweet Potato Delights is just another version of coaching people to eat healthy and providing them with the tools to do so – something she did as a student, author, demonstrator, educator, nonprofit worker, and public health professional. Creating food products offers people convenience, giving them options for healthy, tasty options.
No matter her role, outreach is at the heart of everything Anderson does. She’s written two cookbooks and one educational coloring book for young people based on healthy lifestyles. There’s another book in the works, too.
“At my every turn, even as a food entrepreneur manufacturing food products, grab-and-go snack items, or when I am meeting with potential restaurants that may want to sell my items wholesale, or if I’m doing the farmers’ market, I am constantly providing that education connected to the food I am selling,” she said.
In 2016, her own sweet potato hummus landed a spot on grocery store shelves, reaching even more homes and increasing access to nutrient-dense vegan meal options. Today, she offers small batches of vegan dips, spreads, and baked goods – all free of additives and preservatives in addition to being low in calories, fat, and sodium. Online shoppers can choose from cranberry sweet potato cake, pecan-topped brownies, hummus, and sweet potato cheesecake from Sweet Potato Delights’ website.
Sweet Potato Delights has expanded their reach to East Lansing after getting its start in the Detroit food scene in an effort to support the elimination of food deserts within city limits.
“We expanded to three markets last year, and this year, we were at five farmers markets,” Anderson said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to connect with people, and have conversations with their food. We were invited to do the winter Downtown Underground Market in East Lansing, and we loved it.”
After hearing from market managers and shoppers alike about the regular in-season local markets, Sweet Potato Delights signed up and has been a regular vendor throughout the East Lansing Farmers’ Market this spring and summer.
“The East Lansing team is amazing, bringing a wonderful variety of food vendors, including the farms as well as the prepared food, and even entertainment to the people.”
Chatting with folks locally at the market has also led to potential contacts within the community.
“I’ve made contacts with folks that are nutrition professors at MSU, and we are really excited to be connected to the East Lansing market, and intend to stay connected,” she said.
Looking toward the future, Anderson and Sweet Potato Delights aim to add even more farmers’ markets stops to their weekly schedules and connect with more restaurants to sell their products. They also have philanthropic dreams of creating jobs, helping nurture food entrepreneurs, and creating partnerships with local businesses to promote and inspire healthy living.
Check out Sweet Potato Delights this Sunday and every Sunday in October at the East Lansing Farmers’ Market at Valley Court Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.