The opening of the Shawnee Fresh Stop Market in June, 2011. Louisville Mayor Gregg Fischer is seen in the middle of the photo speaking with founders Joyce Wade and Myrna Brame. Founders Seth Gunning and Blaine Snipstal are to the right. Redeemer Lutheran Church is in the background.
In the late 2000s, the idea of New Roots and the Fresh Stop Markets was merely a hopeful seed buried in the soil. The nurturing of this seed was difficult, exciting, and about as organic (very!) as the countless tomatoes shareholders have already consumed this 2017 growing season. Up until the founding of New Roots in 2009, Karyn Moskowitz (co-founder and Executive Director), as well as many others throughout the city of Louisville, had been faced with an uphill effort of connecting fresh food insecure communities with the local, organic, produce that we all deserve to live a happy and healthy life. Stephen Bartlett, a friend of Karyn’s and a partner in the food justice community, states that the work up until that point “had experienced a series of major setbacks and shortcomings.” Simply put, the traditional farmers’ market models were just not working. The retail prices for the produce were too high. Based on a recommendation received days earlier, Bartlett visited a Cleveland, OH organization as part of a detour on a separate business trip. This organization had created a unique way of utilizing an income-based sliding scale for fresh food distribution throughout Cleveland, and it was proving to be very successful. The organization, called City Fresh, and its Fresh Stop Market model, is the foremother of what we here in Kentuckiana know as New Root’s Fresh Stop Markets.
With this new knowledge to battle the issue of equitable food access, Karyn Moskowitz and others, such as Al Mortenson, a longtime supporter of food justice initiatives, prepared to open the very first Fresh Stop Market in 2009. “When I moved to Louisville in 1976, I realized that fresh food was not readily available to many people in the city, especially to those in [so-called USDA] food deserts,” Mortenson says. “When I learned of the Fresh Stop Market model in 2009, I knew I wanted to be part of this new endeavor.” That same year, Al stepped up and became the site leader of the Fresh Stop Market at the Fourth Ave. United Methodist Church, the first of its kind. While there were plenty of setbacks that first year, including the loss of much of their promised produce for the season due to heavy rainfall, Moskowitz, Mortenson, and many others continued to persevere.
For the first couple of years, New Roots remained a very small organization, still searching for the strongest footing in Louisville. In 2011, things began to change. Two interns with the Presbyterian Hunger Program (P.H.P.) became heavily involved. Encouraged by P.H.P.’s Associate for National Hunger Concerns, Andrew Kang Bartlett, the two AmeriCorps VISTA interns, Seth Gunning and Blain Snipstal, community organizers from Georgia, were able to help expand the capacity of New Roots, even writing the very first grant to the Presbyterian Hunger Program, which was given to New Roots that same year. “We were all together at the initial meeting with the leadership at Redeemer Lutheran Church. The VISTAs appreciated the grassroots, local leader-driven approach and put many hours into supporting and developing curricula, the board, etc.” Says, Kang Bartlett. With this outside help, Moskowitz and New Roots were finally able to look to a promising horizon instead of focusing on the present.
Eight years and many evolutions of the Fresh Stop Market model later, Al Mortenson continues to volunteer with the Fresh Stop Markets regularly. Although there is no longer a market at the Fourth Ave. United Methodist Church, Mortenson can be seen floating between several of Louisville’s nine Fresh Stop Markets. “I continue to actively participate with the Fresh Stop Markets because I have the same desire I had when I moved to Louisville in 1976—that fresh local produce be readily available and affordable to all persons living in the city, especially to those living in fresh food insecure neighborhoods.”
Many of the items that are part of the weekly Fresh Stop Market shares would not be possible without the work of bees, so it’s important for both farmers and those who support their work to promote behaviors that help keep bees healthy.
Dave Keal, who runs organic farm Field 51 Produce in Goshen, and his wife Meg Shea, who operates Dropseed Native Plant Nursery, said this area has not seen the issue with Colony Collapse Syndrome that has been in the news in recent years, but said bees are still struggling.
“They’re suffering from chemical use and there’s some things I’ve read about cellphone towers” among other issues, he said. “Nothing (definitive) that you can point to, but it’s also just degradation of habitat; bees don't have as much to feed on because people are planting things like grasses that don’t get pollinated by bees.
“In the country, it’s a little bit different because it’s more of a thing that farmers mow and don't let any flowers grow up around their soybean fields or things like that. Like I said, there is a degradation of habitat.”
Keal said diversity of species is something we should all be concerned about.
“Diversity of species is something that we need to maintain because bees are doing things that we really don’t know they’re doing,” he said. “We do know they’re doing a lot of things, like pollinating our food. Almost all squashes, all cucubrits – which are the melons, winter squashes – need to be pollinated by bees. Tomatoes, too, and anything that has a flower, it has been pollinated by a bee.”
Carson Nation, who operates Carson Nation Produce in Fisherville and Finchville, said organic practices helps promote bee health.
“We don't spray any harsh chemicals,” he said. “If we do spray any insecticides or fungicides, we like to do it early in the morning when the bees aren’t feeding.”
Nation, a sixth-generation farmer, said his family practices what they call “farmganics,” which is clean, mostly organic practices learned from and passed down through the generations.
“We try to be clean. I tell everyone that they can go to anyone of our fields, pick something and eat it there without having to wash it first,” he said. “If we grow in a clean way, we are promoting healthy bees.”
Nation and Keal both plant flowers on their farms to help bees and other wildlife.
“We have native beds in our gardening system so there is something always flowering for the bees to take advantage of,” Keal said. “They flower at different times throughout the season. You can also plant your cover crops in the winter and summer and let it go to flower, that really will help your bees as well. A good example of that is buckwheat.”
He also encouraged all farmers to refrain from mowing flowers around their fields. “That would also help birds in the winter months, there's all kinds of things it’s helping,” he said.
And planting a pollinator garden of perennials is a way for anyone in the city or suburbs to do their part for the bees and other wildlife.
“It has a bunch of plants in it that are native to Kentucky that flower at different times,” Keal said. “What you are doing is providing a nectar source for bees. You are also providing a nectar and food source for birds in the winter, butterflies for caterpillars, all kinds of things. It’s a multiple effect when you plant a pollinator garden.”
And don’t use harsh chemicals if it can be avoided. “The other thing you can do as a city person is don’t spray chemicals as much, especially if something is flowering, don’t spray around that,” Keal said. “The insects are drawn to (the flower) and if you spray that, you’re going to kill the insects, too.”
These days, the process of finding, ordering, and getting vegetables to New Roots’ 10 Louisville area-based Fresh Stop Markets is a relatively smooth process – with the occasional hiccup finding its way in just to keep things interesting.
But that was not always the case. The process has evolved since the organization was founded in 2009. For example, “this year, we haven’t had to go out to the farms and physically pick anything,” said Mary Montgomery, New Roots’ Uber Farmer Liaison.
“There have been times when we’ve gone out to the farms and picked vegetables and brought them back to the market so they would have what we forecasted,” Montgomery said. “Sometimes the shareholders don’t know the length and time that is involved in getting the food to the market for them.”
Despite the effort, she said it is worth it to make sure shareholders are not disappointed. “We love and enjoy seeing the community eat healthy and being happy,” she said.
Creating something from scratch has meant a learning curve for everyone, including the farmers who have partnered with New Roots. Montgomery said she and the farmers have had to learn to speak the same language.
“I have to work with the farmers because they like to sell a lot of their items by the pound, which makes financial sense for them, but we need to buy them by the ‘eaches,’” she said.
Each Fresh Stop Market share contains ten items, and when ordering things such as cucumbers, Montgomery said it has to be done per item, as sometimes an individual piece of produce can weigh a pound or more.
“If a particular market wants two cucumbers per share, I need to make sure I’m getting 72 cucumbers and not 72 pounds,” she said.
Montgomery gives a lot of credit to the farmers who have changed their ways to work with New Roots, which has proven beneficial for everyone.
But no matter how much New Roots works to continue to improve the Fresh Stop Markets, there is one thing that can’t be controlled – the weather.
“Trying to have all of the Markets eating on the same accord has been a task this season, because we don’t want any disparities in our markets,” she said. “And a lot is due to the weather as to when that crop is going to be available to us. They may have peppers one week for our markets and the next week (of the two-week cycle), they may not have enough to offer.”
Montgomery said they are always looking for ways to improve the process, but one of the most important things people can do is volunteer at the Markets.
“Be understanding, patient, and volunteer, because if they don’t help, then these markets go away,” she said. “We really do need the volunteers, not just buying the shares. Yes, we want you to enjoy the food, but these markets are alive and it takes volunteerism.”
It also goes the other way around. New Roots Executive Director Karyn Moskowitz reminds us that, “All volunteers really should be purchasing shares. We want everyone to gain access to this beautiful food, and leave the market and go home and experience delicious, nutrition-filled meals.”
For our Jewish shareholders, this time of year holds special meaning. On Wednesday evening, at sunset on September 20th, we ushered in Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. Jews ushered in that evening and into the next two days the mystical “Birth of the Universe,” and celebrated it as the head of the Jewish year. It is a time of renewal and hopes for a year ahead full of peace, prosperity and blessing. Coming up on the evening of September 29th and lasting until September 30th, is Yom Kipper, the day of atonement and fasting, with even more holidays coming in October, most notably, Sukkot. This season, for many Jewish families, is also all about the food.
On Rosh Hashanah, special challah bread is dipped in honey to symbolize a prayer for sweet things to come in the new year. Challah is round on Rosh Hashanah, recalling the cyclical nature of the year. It is also symbolic of a crown, alluding to the desire to crown G-d as king. Apples are important on this day as well.
“Many Jews consider apples to be a perfect fruit—beautiful to the eye, the smell, and delicious to eat. Apples are dipped in honey during Rosh Hashanah for added sweetness,” says New Roots director Karyn Moskowitz, who is very immersed in her Jewish culture, especially the food. “I use this as an opportunity to buy a big supply of local honey from ValuMarket and use in all my Rosh Hashanah cooking so our upcoming year is sweet as well.”
Both the body and head of a fish are symbolic for Rosh Hashanah. Fish swim in schools and breed in plenty, and as a result, have traditionally been seen as representations of abundance.
Some foods are treasured because they are a play on words, meaning the word for the food sounds like something else you’d want to wish for in the new year. Egyptian Jews and others eat black-eyed peas because they are called Rubya, related to the Hebrew word rov meaning a lot, many. Black-eyed pea dishes, such as Hoppin’ Jack, are traditional New Year’s eats in the American Southeast. Ashkenazi or Jews of eastern European descent added carrots, “ma’rin” in Yiddish, which can also mean increase, in order to ask that merits be increased. Some say the sliced carrots in a dish like tsimmes look like gold coins, making this a way of asking for wealth.
Parkland shareholder Marcia Segal gives her take on tsimmes, “I love to make traditional tsimmes out of sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, dried fruit like prunes, and a bit of honey. Tsimmes is a great dish because it is sweet and has beautiful Fall flavors and colors.”
For Yom Kippur, after a day of fasting, traditional foods cooked and served by Karyn to her guests include gefilte fish (both vegan made out of tofu and freshwater fish), as well as kasha varnishkes, or buckwheat groats and bow-tie noodles.
All shareholders who are interested in joining Karyn’s break the fast on Saturday evening, September 30th, can RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited so write soon!
Winter is coming…what do we eat?
As the Kentucky growing season winds to a close, the taste of those spring strawberries and hot summer peppers will soon be a distant memory. Some of us have put up some of our food in the form of pickled okra, naturally-fermented beet juice (kvass), and frozen blanched greens. But for all our shareholders and farmers, the approach of the colder fall weather also signals the end of a 22-week local food access extravaganza. Some of our higher income shareholders can easily access fresh conventionally-grown produce at their neighborhood supermarket. But for others, the road to keeping their diet rich with fresh food is rocky and often extremely frustrating and even dangerous.
“The only thing you can do is to go to ValuMarket, WalMart or Krogers. I will not be able to get organic vegetables. It is out of my price range, remarked Old Louisville Fresh Stop Market site leader and farmer liaison. “I usually buy things that I know are going to last that I can make soup or stews out of, like carrots, potatoes and cabbage. Something that will go a long way. Or vegetarian chili. But since fresh tomatoes in the winter taste like cardboard I’ll probably use canned.”
Gendler Grapevine Fresh Stop Market @ The J “day of” and outreach leader Melva Smith said, “I’ll probably get a lot of my vegetables frozen because it is cheaper. I can’t buy the fresh from Krogers. So I’ll buy mixed vegetables and frozen broccoli from Costco. I’ll miss getting my fresh greens. I wish we could get home canned veggies that are put up by our farmers during the winter.”
But what do farmers eat during the winter? According to Ben Abell from Rootbound Farm, “We are able to have enough to do a lot of canning. We put tomatoes away. We also eat a lot of the storage crops we hang onto like potatoes, turnips, winter squashes. We usually eat out of the field until the end of December, at least until we get a really hard freeze. Then after that, we hunker down as long as we can and feel miserable! But Bree loves salad. So when we get desperate enough we will either try to purchase lettuce locally or head to Costco for the 5 lb. organic California lettuce clamshell. There are so many problems with the industrial food system. But until we get more storage for root crops, more high tunnels, it [the existence of this system] can be a stepping stone for us.”
High or Polytunnels are typically made from z35 Steel and covered in polythene, usually semi-circular, square or elongated in shape. The interior heats up because incoming solar radiation from the sun warms plants, soil, and other things inside the building faster than heat can escape the structure. Air warmed by the heat from hot interior surfaces is retained in the building by the roof and wall. High tunnels have been used to grow food in the winter in temperate climates for many years worldwide, but in the United States, the utilization of high tunnel technology for the production of horticultural crops is a relatively recent phenomenon.
New Roots director Karyn Moskowitz visited south Korea in May 2015 as part of her Community Foundation of Louisville Alden Fellowship and saw firsthand how a collective vision of year-round sustainable agriculture has made local food access a full-time reality. “South Koreans eat a lot of vegetables with every meal, both fresh and naturally-fermented and pickled. The Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has invested large funds (subsidies) in the development of greenhouses and high tunnels so Korean farmers can farm and supply consumers with vegetables year-round.”
So what can we do as a collective community to help our shareholders keep eating their veggies?
Barbra offered an idea, “Food banks are great but then you don’t really get to pick out what you need. A lot of stuff they give I don’t eat, like canned fruit and cereal. Trader Joe’s, Kroger or Costco card donations would be a great idea to help some families get through the winter. Families can bring cards to the November 16th Thanksgiving Farmer Appreciation dinner and New Roots can donate them to families who need them.”
New Roots is searching for other ideas from our shareholders for how we can come together to help our shareholders who will face struggles this winter accessing fresh food. Please send your ideas to email@example.com.
Some of the major obstacles to building a fresh food movement for all can be seen when you look carefully at the early years of New Roots and the Fresh Stop Markets. Two of these obstacles, possibly the biggest of them all, were finding both the fresh food and a place for folks to pick up that fresh food.
In the early years, the process of finding vegetable and fruit distributors/farmers as a small non-profit with little to no history of previous success proved to be an incredibly difficult task. No one was budging. Everyone behind the founding of New Roots knew this Fresh Stop Market model could be a beautiful success, the farmers on the other hand (after several failed traditional farmers’ markets), needed greater persuasion.
New Roots’ Uber Farmer Liaison and co-founder of the Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop Market, Mary Montgomery puts it simply: “The farmers just didn’t have any interest in the Fresh Stop Markets. Most of them were doing CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture, a weekly share paid through the whole season) and informed us that they only had enough produce to fill those orders.” Eventually, New Roots made contact with a farmer who agreed to supply the Fresh Stop Markets. Soon after this agreement, however, that same farmer backed out of their commitment, citing a new contract with Kroger’s. Back to square one.
After having the first committed farmer back out, New Roots looked and looked, finally finding a good replacement. Halfway through the season, however, that farmer ended up losing their entire Fresh Stop Market supply due to a heavy rainfall. “We stumbled upon another farmer,” Montgomery says, “and then they suddenly announced that they were completely out of food for the rest of the season.” Once again, New Roots was at the starting gate, willing to purchase food at auctions, willing to even do the actual harvesting themselves. Scrambling to find a replacement for the replacement, Rootbound Farms from Crestwood, KY stepped up and saved the season, ultimately leading to a great relationship that is still flourishing today.
Before New Roots could run into any of the problems of finding suppliers, however, they first needed to find a location to host the Fresh Stop Market. Once again, no one budged. Only one out of the 50+ churches in West Louisville was receptive to the idea of hosting a Fresh Stop Market. After an initial false start at churches in the Russell and Newburg Neighborhoods, in 2010, Shawnee Redeemer Lutheran Church became the site of the first sustainable West Louisville Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop Market. In order for the market to thrive, members of that church needed to take ownership of the market, and that is what they did. “The Pastor and members of the congregation believed in us and in the fresh food movement. We could not do this by ourselves, it takes a community to make the Fresh Stop Markets work, a community we now have.” says Montgomery. The model of Fresh Stop Market volunteer leader teams, i.e., farmer and chef liaison, check in leader, etc., was born out of that first winter’s six-week food justice workshops and continues to work well today. Shawnee became the incubator for the other 14 markets that came later.
In the early years, New Roots and the Fresh Stop Markets did not receive any support from the city government, and not much has changed. (New Roots does receive a small grant from Metro Community Revitalization Services, or External Agency Funding). Bypassing the bureaucracy, New Roots has established itself as a grass-roots organization that isn’t reliant on recognition from the city. It is the power of the people that has propelled New Roots into a position where it now legitimately challenges the traditional food system, a system that has marginalized far too many people for far too long. Despite many struggles to establish itself within Kentuckiana, New Roots and the Fresh Stop Markets are close to wrapping up the eighth and most successful Fresh Stop Market season yet.