When it comes to farming, the most common story told is one of land that a farmer can trace back through many generations of his or her family.
Growing up on the land you farm gives you an advantage when it comes to farming because you have long-standing knowledge of what that land has done in the past, how it has been used, and what it is capable of. But what happens when you are brand new to a piece of land?
For Joseph Monroe, he’s not new to farming but he is still in the getting-to-know-you phase at his farm, Valley Spirit in Henry County, which he has been on for just three years.
“I didn’t do much the first year, but I did grow up in the region so I knew a lot about it,” he said. “I knew a lot from similar properties. I knew what the soil types could do. There are definitely some special things about this farm that I had to figure out that were different, but I had a good start, I had a good leg up.”
He said farmers need to be observant in the beginning and listen to the land rather than try to force their will on it. Doing so allows them to learn where it floods, where the wind blows in, and simply how it works under various conditions. Having that knowledge can help you avoid preventable disasters.
“It’s so many little things that compound” Monroe said of learning your land. “One of the things I learned about this farm is that I had to do raised beds; this soil just doesn’t drain very well. If I don’t do raised beds, things might get flooded once or twice (a season).”
Working the soil deeply and raising it up allowed him to avoid losing any plants when several days of rain bucketed his farm in late May.
“I didn’t lose any crops,” he said. “If someone was growing on flat ground on this farm, their crops would have been under water. So just draining the water off, finding a way to do that was important.”
Monroe said he is slowly learning the best way to use his 118-acre farm.
“Most of this farm is pasture, it’s good for animals,” he said. “Only one acre is set aside for vegetables, and 117 acres are for cows and pigs. I had to learn how grass grows and how to mob graze, and how to finish beef with only grass.”
It’s been quite an education for someone who had never owned a cow before. “Now we have 50-60 in a year-and-a-half, which is going from zero to 60 really fast,” he said. “It all came from observing for a little bit.”
Water also has been part of Monroe’s learning curve.
“We don't have city water out here, so just figuring out how to get water from the pond into a drip irrigation system,” has been a challenge, he said. “I had to set the whole system up; I didn’t know how to do that.”
Monroe said community has been invaluable in getting his farm up and running.
“Another important thing was learning how important it is to have neighbors and a community when you come to a new place,” he said. “There are just some times when you need help, you can’t just do it alone.”
Like any treasured family keepsake, seeds for heirloom fruits and vegetables have been preserved, protected and passed down through generations so others may continue to enjoy them the way they were meant to be.
“Heirloom fruits and vegetables are a sequence of genetics that haven’t changed in 50 years, or 100 years, or 200 years,” said Josh Orr of La Minga Cooperative Urban Farming in Prospect. “The genetic composition of that vegetable is the same as it was a long time ago.”
He said farmers will look for certain traits when growing produce and when they find them, they work to continue to reproduce them season after season.
“The reason that is important as a trait in fruits and vegetable, those genetics often have the ability to produce, for example, a tomato, which has such a different flavor than any tomato you will find at the grocery store,” Orr said. “It was bred over 1,000 years and when they finally found something really amazing 100 years ago, the Cherokee Purple tomato for example, instead of changing those genetics any further, someone said, ‘Hey, this has amazing flavor, it has amazing color, it grows really well, it has amazing disease resistance, let’s keep this, let’s preserve this genetic code.’”
Jenny Vaughn of Pink Elephant Farm in Henry County, said it is difficult for heirlooms to be grown on a large scale.
“In most cases, the varieties we know as heirlooms were saved and selected for flavor and/or regionally specific adaptabilities,” she said. “As gardening and agriculture changed, other considerations such as durability in shipping and yield became more prevalent, while flavorful heirloom varieties usually do not yield as well as newer varieties and can sometimes be more susceptible to diseases.
Orr said produce grown in an industrial setting are bred for different traits. “Can these things be grown in massive quantities, to withstand being sprayed with very toxic chemicals? Can it withstand being in a truck for 10 days, and can it stand being refrigerated,” Orr asked. “Those are traits that are really important to an industrial system, but are those traits important to the people eating the food? Often times it’s not.”
He said heirlooms weren’t bred to be that way. “They were bred to be an amazing tomato that’s really good to eat and really good to grow with organic methods. It’s really just the difference in intentions.”
And when grown where they were bred, heirloom seeds can produce amazing results.
“In Kentucky, there are a lot of these varieties that produce much better,” Orr said. “At La Minga for example, we grow an heirloom garlic that my friend Brian grew for five years in Kentucky, but he got it from his neighbor who had grown it for 20 years in Kentucky, and they got it from their neighbor, but they don’t know how long they’ve had it. Since the story for this garlic began, we haven’t bred it, we haven’t changed it, we haven’t bought new seeds from Maine, we haven’t crossed it with anything else, and it grows so much better than any other garlic I’ve tried.”
Vaughn, who farms with her partner, Justin Owings, said heirlooms are more than just a great tasting alternative.
“We like the idea of participating in the historical aspect of heirloom vegetables, learning the stories behind certain varieties, and learning the culinary traditions that often surround them,” she said. “In a small farmstead, it’s helpful for us to learn which cabbage was understood to be a fresh eating cabbage, or a storage cabbage, or the best one for turning into sauerkraut.”
Beyond the Dinner Table: Childhood dreams realized through New Roots Fresh Stop Markets and Community Unity
With the expansion of fresh food insecure communities in many neighborhoods in Louisville, community organizing is more important than ever. Community organizing is what brings people together to create something greater than themselves—a collective of willpower capable of creating the progress that gives a community life and good memories. For Smoketown Fresh Stop Market Farmer Liaison and renowned chef, Mark Hoosier, the collective for him is New Roots. This is a story of how a chance meeting between a 17-year old budding chef and a food justice organizer worked to have an impact beyond the dinner table.
Mark was twelve when he first started cooking in his own kitchen. Although, culinary arts peaked his interest long before. “As a toddler my mom was going to school and working so I stayed with my Aunt,” Mark said. Mark spent his time with his Aunt sifting through cookbooks and writing down recipes that he wanted to cook at home. “Eventually I took it upon myself to get into the kitchen on my own. I would go grocery shopping on my own and point out the ingredients I wanted to use to my mother.”
Shively is Mark’s childhood home. He grew up there after moving from City View with his mother. “Like anywhere [City View] had its own issues,” Mark said. One could say moving to Shively was Mark’s turning point. He attended Western High School and enrolled in the culinary arts program where his love for cooking peaked. “During the introductory course, you’re learning things like how to make cookies and brownies. As you go through the years, the class gets smaller. The chef instructor decides who’s ready to be in the program—who is actually learning from this, and who is just here to eat.”
As Mark approached senior year, he was excited to take up a cook position in the mock restaurant just across the hall from the cooking classroom. Here, the students, typically seniors, would create a menu for the week, and sell the food to teachers and faculty members. “One thing that stood out the most was the raviolo that I had made,” Mark said. It was my first time making it. It's a larger ravioli with a mixture of feta cheese, herbs, cream.”
The Western High School Culinary Arts Program is also where Mark met his longtime friend, Nikkia Rhodes. During their junior year, New Roots Director Karyn Moskowitz met with the class and invited them to do a cooking demo at then Wellington Fresh Stop Market.
Mark explains, “The very first Fresh Stop Market that I cooked at would be the Shively Fresh Stop Market when it was still at the Wellington Elementary location. I was there cooking with my high school since we had a culinary arts program and it was my junior year; I was 17.” Mark, with the help of his culinary peers made a butternut squash pasta dish. “We don't produce anything that tastes poor,” Mark laughs. “Everyone seemed to love the dish. It was likely the most labor intensive dish I've seen prepared for a Fresh Stop Market.”
Soon after, Mark was tagged for an internship at Texas Roadhouse. But Karyn and her colleague at New Roots, Angelo Boone, saw something different in Mark’s future. Angelo remarked, “He was only 17 and making zucchini sushi. I could see this was a special young man, who just needed the right mentor to unleash his creative potential as a chef.” Angelo connected Mark to Hillbilly Tea Chef Karter Louis. Mark started as a dishwasher, but under the tutelage of Chef Arpi, he soon advanced to sous chef. That gig led him and Nikkia to the kitchen of Chef Ed Lee (of Milkwood and 610 Magnolia), and YouthBuild, and a yearlong culinary internship. Nikkia and Mark ended up working together at a restaurant called Millwood, owned by Chef Ed Lee. There was a single day where two of the cooks we absent—no call, no show. Both Nikkia and Mark stepped up to the plate, together. “It was the busiest time of the year. We were both forced onto the hotline, and it was absolutely hellish.” Mark said. “But we got through it. From there it was just really rigorous and we were there to be each other's rocks and keep each other safe. It really showed how hectic and stressful the restaurant industry could be.”
Today, Mark is getting ready to become executive chef at Ed Lee’s new restaurant on 4th Street, Whiskey Dry. To tithe back to New Roots as a volunteer farmer liaison made perfect sense to Mark, not only to “pay it back,” but to also pay it forward by becoming a representative for his Smoketown community. “I have learned a great deal about community organizing from New Roots,” Mark said. “I find that oftentimes it's easy to perceive a community as disconnected within itself but it's very much the opposite.” In other words, New Roots is the glue that often times works to bring the connectedness that does exist out into the open, and leverage it to not only build a food justice movement, but to build careers as well.
Beyond the Silo: If grocery store tomatoes had their own soap opera, it would be called “The Bland and the Beautiful.”
Grown for looks and not taste, these tomatoes are often the opposite of home-grown and organically grown tomatoes – sometimes “ugly,” available in every shade of the rainbow, and with a taste that can only be authentically produced in the summer.
Sherry Hurley, owner of Farm to Fork Catering, said the reason for that is that store-bought tomatoes may have been harvested as long as three weeks before actually making it to someone’s plate.
“A lot of tomatoes, because they need to be ripe when they arrive at the grocery store, are actually harvested when they’re green and then they’re refrigerated, which can also affect the texture, the smell, and the flavor of the tomato,” she said. “When people say it has that mealy texture or it tastes like cardboard, that’s how that happens.”
Alaina Tobbe, produce manager for Ashbourne Farms, said when tomatoes are picked before they are ripe, it means their sugars have not had time to develop, robbing them of much of their cherished flavors.
“They’re really pretty and they’re flawless, but their taste isn’t the same,” she said. “The ones you grow yourself, even if you pick them when they’re starting to turn red, they have more sugars, they’ve had more time to develop and ripen, and that helps their flavor so much. And even if they have flaws, like their skin starts to split, they may not look as pretty, but they taste so much better.”
Tomatoes, like many fruits and vegetables, are 70-90 percent water, and once they are removed from the vine begin to lose moisture and nutrients.“So the goal, in terms of flavor, food safety, and nutritional value, is to eat a tomato that is harvested as closely to the time you are going to eat it as possible,” Hurley said. “Obviously, if you have a garden at home, you can harvest it and eat it immediately, which is by far the best when it’s still warm and at the peak of ripeness.”
She said in her experience, tomatoes brought to markets like Fresh Stop Markets and farmers’ markets are generally picked the previous day, making them the freshest option next to growing your own.
“And ideally, you want local, organic tomatoes,” Hurley said. “Again, because tomatoes are made up of so much water, the pesticides can be more prevalent in vegetables that are thin skinned.”
And being able to get beyond the 4-6 types of tomatoes typically offered in stores is an even bigger incentive to grow your own or look for them outside of grocery stores.
“There are hundreds of varieties available and to limit yourself to 4-6 red kinds that don’t have much flavor in the grocery stores, really, is to not experience tomatoes in my opinion,” Hurley said.
Tobbe said Ashbourne specializes mostly in heirloom tomatoes, of which there are endless varieties, from slicers to cherry tomatoes to Romas – and the demand is growing.“Looking at the orders we’ve gotten this week, I’m definitely going to try to up production next year if I can manage to find the greenhouse space,” she said.
And when it comes to the best way to eat tomatoes, that question has as many answers as there are varieties. Tobbe said she prefers hers either diced up on a taco or sliced on a turkey sandwich. For Hurley, it’s hard to beat a good BLT – unless, as she said, you fry an egg to put on top of it and make it a breakfast sandwich!
In the Veggie Patch: Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side? Some Fresh Stop Market shareholders Say YES to Grass-Finished Beef
If you are looking for a good reason to start eating grass-finished beef as opposed to the grain-finished, concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) produced beef available at the grocery, we can give you at least five:
It’s healthier for people. It’s more humane for the cattle. It’s better for the environment. It’s now available through all of New Roots’ Fresh Stop Markets. And like the produce that shareholders get through their Fresh Stop Markets, this grass-finished beef is purchased locally—from Ashbourne Farm in La Grange, Kentucky, with logistical support from Ian Herrick from Louisville Farm to Table.
What makes grass-finished beef better than grain-finished feedlot beef is that cattle are eating their natural diet of grass—from birth to processing—as opposed to the grains they are fed at the end of their lives at large, commercial operations. They also are able to forage in open pastures for that grass, which is a more natural environment for cows and more humane than overcrowded feedlots.
“Grass-finished beef is the equivalent of organic vegetables,” said Ian Herrick, with Louisville Farm to Table, who has been helping New Roots promote the beef at the Markets. “If the reason you don’t like eating conventional beef is because you perceive it to be unhealthy, or you don’t like the way the cows were raised, or being exposed to antibiotics, or cattle that are eating GMO grain, grass finished is your answer to eating a healthier beef.”
He said when cows are fed a diet of grain, they often develop digestive issues.
“This leads to the use of antibiotics,” Herrick said. “Feed grain often contains low-dose antibiotics … which leads to an increase in antibiotic resistance in people, causing them to be less effective.”
In addition to being healthier for the cows, the meat they produce is healthier for people to eat.
“It’s lower in total fat and calories and higher in antioxidants,” Herrick said. “When cows eat their natural diet of grass, they don't need those antibiotics, and they build up more Omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamin E and A.”
And if people purchase beef from smaller farmers, there is less reliance on large-scale cattle feeding operations. Herrick said these operations create a lot of methane gas, which has been linked by scientists to global climate change.
He said there is a difference between grass-fed beef and grass-finished beef.
“Grass-fed beef was originally taken to mean it was raised on grass for the entire lifecycle of the cow, but then people started calling cows who are grain finished, grass fed. What conventional beef farmers do is raise cows on grass until a certain point and then feed them grain at the end of their life (to get it to put on weight quickly),” he said. “So people had to start using the term ‘grass finished.’ Grass finished means they have never been fed anything but grass, no grains.”
The grass-finished beef available through the Fresh Stop Markets is $6 a pound, and is being sold at cost.
“One reason grass finished is a higher price is not that they are trying to make a healthier product, it’s because it takes longer and it’s a lot more work for the farmer,” he said. “It’s work in that they have to graze their cattle in different parts of their land and at the same time, they have to monitor what is growing and if it is the proper grass or clover for them to develop. A drought could be devastating if you are a grass-finished farmer. Some people have to feed their cows grain at times, although true grass-finished farmers have storage of dried grasses that they feed their cows. And that is what Kentucky farmers do in the winters.
Fresh Stop Markets are home to many vegans, who have weighed in on the addition. “I think it is better than buying beef at the grocery store knowing how chemically processed it can be,” added New Roots marketing and PR intern Nikki D’Ambrosio, who is a vegan. “I know some people believe their bodies need a higher protein intake—like my brother—and get this through eating beef. However, I feel it is better to eat humanely-raised meat, if you are going to eat it at all.”
Shareholders can now order beef at the same time they order their share. Just go to the New Roots’ website and click on your market under the “Ordering” tab, and you will see a place where you can add beef to your order.
Let’s face it, in today’s society, the competition in the job market is increasing at an exponential pace, leaving those who have fewer internships or job experience out of luck. While a college degree with honors looks good on a resume, employers are expecting applicants to come out of college with at least 3-5 years of experience. What about those who have to work multiple part time jobs in order to pay for school or for their family? As sad as it is to say, the people who can afford many unpaid internships in their respected field typically are ones who stand out to employers.
A program through KentuckianaWorks called SummerWorks was implemented by Mayor Greg Fischer in 2011 when teen unemployment rates were at an all-time low. This program offers local students (ages 16-21) the opportunity to enter the workforce and offers all the tools to students in order to succeed. Last summer, more than 140 employers hired more than 5,100 youth between the age of 16 and 21. From industry-leading corporations to neighborhood businesses, organizations of all size have benefited from participating in SummerWorks. For participating nonprofits, Metro Louisville pays each intern $8.25/hour for 30 hours per week for seven weeks. This money comes out of the Metro budget surplus.
SummerWorks is a program that not only helps students but also helps businesses around the Jefferson County/Louisville area. In all honesty, it’s a win-win. This program provides students with valuable knowledge about the workforce, money management, and helps them create connections; all of which can be taken with them in the future and applied to future jobs or careers.
My SummerWorks story isn’t like most–I didn’t find SummerWorks, but rather, it found me. After being connected with New Roots for a couple of years, and finishing up my first year at a Jesuit University that heavily encourages community service, I knew I wanted to find an internship that was more than just going on coffee runs and staring at the ceiling all day. I wanted to make a difference. When Karyn Moskowitz reached out to me and proposed that I come work with New Roots as a marketing intern through the SummerWorks program, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass.
This was not the internship I had in mind for this summer, but I am beyond thankful that it was placed in my lap. SummerWorks has introduced me to many hard-working, passionate young adults who I work alongside every day. This internship is giving me valuable marketing and life skills that I am able to save and use in the future. This internship is also helping me give back to the community.
While my New Roots SummerWorks story is not the same as others, there is a running theme that this opportunity allows us to thrive and learn in a field that we are interested in. Similar to me, junior in the culinary program at Western High School in Louisville, Lee’Shion Stroud, said that his SummerWorks internship at New Roots fell into his lap. He said that his trainer at the Break the Mold CrossFit gym in Shively originally suggested he work at New Roots and hearing that it was a food justice nonprofit organization immediately peaked his interest. Stroud has developed a love for food and cooking while being a part of his high school’s culinary program. “I was excited to be a part of New Roots this summer because now I can begin to love and appreciate healthier foods like fruits and vegetables.” This internship is allowing Lee’Shion to come one step closer to fulfilling his dream of becoming a chef by allowing him to meet local chefs, cook for Fresh Stop Markets, and learn the importance of fresh foods.
SummerWorks is mostly about helping the youth in the Louisville area, but it also helps local organizations. “New Roots is really interested in cultivating food justice leadership in our youth and young adults. We hand-picked our SummerWorks interns on their specific talents and strengths, neighborhoods of residence, and passion to unite communities to spread food justice,” said Karyn Moskowitz. “We love having their valuable input and innovative ideas.” New Roots currently has 7 SummerWorks interns: 4 operations, 2 communications/marketing, and 1 assistant to the administrative coordinator. These interns are vital to the New Roots HQ over June and July.
Whether it be teaching students about goal setting, time management, and money management within a workplace or allowing a place for those to come one step closer to a dream or future career–the Mayor’s SummerWorks program is allowing 16-21 year old’s across Jefferson county the chance to make money and ultimately give them an advantage to succeed in today’s competitive job market. New Roots could not imagine their summer or “start of the growing” and Fresh Stop Market season without their SummerWorks interns.