At the Kamit Wellness Center in west Charlotte, Ama Bey offers natural medicines and advocates healthy eating to to treat a wide range of maladies. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com)
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Imagine, at 35, having the body of a 60-year-old — diabetic, hypertensive, weakened bones, overweight but undernourished. That’s the reality for many adults living in so-called “food deserts” across the city, and Ama Bey says it’s a shame. As founder of Kamit Wellness Center (formerly Kamit Natural Foods), she has spent the last 17 years as a holistic health practitioner on Charlotte’s west side, working to reverse that trend.
Bey’s story began long before that. The oldest of seven children, she lost both parents within a year of each other when she was 17. Instead of succumbing in a spiral of grief, “I decided to find out why they died. My mother was what they would now call obese; she died at 35, and my dad died of a heart attack when he was 40. I thought, ‘Well, I’m 200 pounds and a teenager, so I might be next.’”
With six siblings depending on her, the youngest only two years old, Bey devoted herself to finding a healthier path. She realized that before her family relocated to the city, they rarely ate fast food, had a garden and were more physically active. She began feeding herself and her sisters and brothers vegetables, beans and grains — an ancient and affordable diet that enabled her to lose weight and avoid colds and other illnesses. She says since then, she’s never had so much as a cavity.
Her health food shop, Kamit Natural Foods, is one half of Kamit Wellness Center. The other half is her naturopathic practice, where she gives consultations on everything from adults struggling with fertility issues to children suffering allergies. The reasons someone would seek out a natural practitioner are myriad; they may want to avoid the dangerous side effects of conventional medicines, or they may like the idea of a health care provider helping to bring the entire body into balance, as opposed to Western medicine’s practice of zeroing in on an isolated set of symptoms. Bey uses natural medicines to treat a wide range of maladies, but she also works with traditional doctors and doesn’t advise chucking your prescriptions once you start a natural regimen.
“If you come in here with cancer, you can’t take one pill and drink some alkaline water and be healed,” she says. “If you’ve been on high blood pressure medication for twenty years, you can’t just wake your organs up one day and say, ‘Get to work.’ They’ve been asleep for 20 years, depending on those medicines. I know what can happen if you quit cold turkey. It’s not a pretty sight.”
Bey is a state-certified N.D., or naturopathic doctor. Using vitamin therapy, food therapy, meditation, Chinese herbal medicine and other traditions, she helps patients learn how to heal themselves. Her husband, also an N.D., teaches detox classes at the center four times a year, in tune with the changing seasons. Their shop is a clearinghouse of information, with long-time customers as willing to share advice as paid employees. Kamit’s first incarnation was on Morehead, but Bey moved the store deeper in the cut, to its Tuckaseegee location, a few years ago.
“Sure, there are other locations we could have chosen, and probably could have made more money,” Bey says. “People say, demographically, I don’t need to be on Tuckaseegee, but I say demographically, I do. There’s a genuine need. They don’t need me in Ballantyne, where there are four health food stores on one block. I need to be here in the community, where we are the only one.”
Rife with repair shops, greasy spoons and storefront churches, the neighborhood is hardly upscale. But customers step inside Kamit’s large, craftsman-style bungalow into an oasis of serenity. The light scent of lemongrass hits the senses, tabletop fountains create soothing white noise, and books by black authors ranging from meditation practices to speculative science fiction are prominently displayed.
Kamit’s mission is “to bring healthy, country eating back into the city,” the website proclaims. “We’ve gotta really kind of open our eyes to fact that if something is in a box and you can cook it in six seconds, it’s not going to give you the nutrients you need,” Bey says.
Kamit has two main options for getting better food to Charlotte residents: Produce in a Box and Abanitu Farms CSA. Produce in a Box, a very popular program, delivers fresh, organic, seasonal produce twice a month, with cooking and serving recommendations. A medium-sized order that will feed one to two people is $50; the $75 bag can feed a family of four. Holiday boxes with organic, non-GMO produce will soon be available.
But the CSA is something special. Community-supported agriculture groups have been around for decades, and are simply networks of growers and consumers who agree to share the risks and benefits of food production. Consumers pay a fee at the start of the growing season and, once the harvest comes, receive regular shares of the vegetables and fruit.
Kamit has partnered with Abanitu Farms, a five-generation African-American-owned farm out of Roxbury, N.C., to bring this concept to the underserved west side. Besides the environmental benefits of Abanitu’s organic practices, their non-pesticide, non-GMO produce are nutrient-rich. And Kamit’s neighborhood location makes the healthier food more accessible to those who need it most.
“There’s a whole connection between eating and healing, so we talk people through it,” Bey says. “We’re educating people. A lot of our problems start in the refrigerator, what’s in there or what isn’t in there. The simpler that we live, the healthier we live.”
Still, there’s more to life than food, and Kamit Wellness Center keeps a continuous schedule of educational events, from healthy living lectures to meditation sessions to a recurring senior dance party, all to jump-start positive change in the community. For more information, go to www.kamitnaturalfoods.com, or call 704-339-0038.
Getting There: From the Charlotte Transit Center, walk to Bay P and take Bus 8 outbound. Stop at Carol Avenue and State Street. Walk two blocks west down State Street and make a right onto Tuckaseegee. Walk one block to 2715 Tuckaseegee Road.