by Jana Riley
It all began when Denise Tucker was at the doctor’s office. She was right around thirty years old and went in for an annual checkup at her physician’s practice. Denise was sitting on the examination table when her doctor delivered the news: her blood sugar was approaching diabetic levels. She would need to go on medication. Denise was upset, but not entirely surprised. Growing up in the Midwest, she had seen her fair share of friends and family members grapple with high blood pressure, diabetes, dialysis, and eventual amputations. Truth be told, nearly everyone she knew above a certain age had struggled with at least one of the ailments, as well as some peers in their twenties, but many had already been through the whole cycle. As the doctor repeated his diagnosis, Denise Tucker summoned all of her resolve, and she made a decision.
“I wouldn’t accept it,” Denise says. “I said, ‘No, I am going to treat my body the natural way. Give me thirty days, and I’ll have it under control.’”
The doctor was skeptical but allowed Denise a month to work on her blood sugar levels before writing a prescription. She immediately began eating only raw, fully plant-based food, cutting out meat, dairy, eggs, processed foods, and refined sugar from her diet entirely. A month later, her blood sugar levels were well within normal range. She was thrilled and vowed never to return to her former way of eating.
As Denise continued on her path of wellness, she began noticing a disturbing trend: issues with high blood pressure, diabetes, and other ailments that require prescription medication seemed to be more common than they were rare. Everywhere she looked: in her church, her friend and family groups, and within her community, health issues abounded. She soon realized that everyone was simply eating the way their parents and grandparents had eaten, with a few key differences: instead of growing their own crops, raising their own meat, and milking their own cows, everyone was consuming mass-produced, processed everything, which had major detrimental effects on their health. Armed with the knowledge she had gathered during her own personal journey, Denise felt compelled to help. She began inviting scores of people into her home for dinner, serving them delicious, plant-based meals featuring whole foods and a wealth of nutrients.
Around the same time, Denise met her soulmate, Baruti, or “Brother B,” as he is affectionately called, is an artist who eschews brushes for his own hands and fingers, connecting him to his work in a very visceral way. He is also a soulful, empathic person, in tune with the resonance of emotional energy. Baruti moved from New York City to marry Denise, and together, they dreamed.
Denise had been in the legal profession for 20 years and had been working in human resources for over half a decade, but her true passion was clearly in healing her community. Baruti made incredible art, but all of the galleries he visited in Augusta turned him down when he asked them to hang his work. Both Baruti and Denise thrived in bringing people together. As the couple lived and loved together, an idea was born: they wanted to open a place where people of all walks of life could come together, nourishing both body and soul. They decided to go for it and started Humanitree House. Initially, without a physical space, the couple focused their efforts on the community service component of Humanitree House, working with youth and teaching them about healthy eating, living, self-mastery, and more.
In 2014, Baruti was ready to expand to a gallery space, and knew that the community needed Denise on the front lines, sharing her nutritious, plant-based, juice-focused diet with the world. He encouraged her to go for it, to jump in with confidence, and with no loans, no stash of savings, and no funding, the couple decided to take a leap of faith. Denise would start hand-pressing juices around 5 p.m. on Friday night, finishing around 3 a.m. They’d drive the juices to their shop, stock the cooler, and come back in at noon on Saturday to offer the juices to whoever needed them, accepting whatever donations people felt compelled to give.
They were able to pick up some ground financially after a loyal customer completed a GoFundMe drive to raise funds. From there, the momentum grew and in 2017, Humanitree House moved into larger digs, right across the street from their old location. Spacious and welcoming, the new place is made for engagement.
“It is so important to us that at Humanitree House, people feel a sense of home and community not only with each other, but within themselves,” says Baruti. “Here, people find their own space. They fill up with not only the nourishment they need, but the energy they need to feel grounded and connected.”
Denise agrees. “Some people who don’t find their way into Humanitree House avoid it because they think there’s nothing here for them. They hear ‘juice’ or ‘smoothies’ or ‘vegan’ and think, ‘that’s not a place I would like.’ I like to think that Humanitree House is a place where no matter who you are, wherever you come from, you can come here and feel like this is your place. Here, people can talk, share, and eat together. Here, you are always welcome.”
In addition to cold-pressed juice, Humanitree House now serves smoothies, salads, wraps, burgers, and more. It also boasts the largest selections of loose leaf teas in the Augusta region, and Denise is more than willing to share her recommendations for selections based on current mood or health status. She also consults customers on juice cleanses depending on their needs but is adamant about offering juice cleanses for health and wellness reasons only - no “lose weight fast” gimmicks here. Though they no longer operate on a donation-only model, the couple centers their focus on the people who come through their doors, their profit margins a distant second concern behind the interpersonal aspect of the space.
“The most important thing for us, in addition to introducing people to a more nutritious way of fueling their bodies, is to facilitate our community building relationships with one another,” says Denise. “We are such a divided nation right now; at Humanitree House, we are all just humans, engaging with one another. It is a common place to find common ground.”