Like minds came together in September when a contingent from the Georgia Farmers’ Market Association (GFMA) visited New Roots for a busy three days to learn about the fight for food justice here and what lessons they could take back to their own state.
Their association doesn’t currently run its own farmers’ markets, having focused its efforts supporting those who do, but hope to open their own Fresh Stop Market this coming spring.
The relationship between the GFMA and New Roots began in April of 2015 when New Root’s Amber Burns and Karyn Moskowitz were invited to speak at the Harvard Law School’s Just Food Conference. “There were not that many other grassroots organizers there, and very few people of color,” remembered Karyn. “We naturally migrated toward Sagdrina Jalal and immediately became friends. Over the past 2 ½ years, we have been stirring up ideas on how we could partner together. We kept in touch, but lack of money, and distance got in our way.”
That changed when Sagdrina, Karyn and JOFEE Fellow and Gendler Grapevine FSM leader Michael Fraade met southern SARE’s director Brennan Washington, who agreed to supply seed money for the partnership. Brennan especially supported the impact a possible Georgia Fresh Stop Market would have on building markets for Georgia’s minority and limited resource farmers.
Executive Director Sagdrina Jalal said the GFMA leaders share the same belief as New Roots, that fresh food is a basic human right.
“When you lead with something that direct, then it opens up the door to work cooperatively, and we can see that,” she said, while visiting the Gendler Grapevine Fresh Stop Market @ the J. “We’re talking about food here, not something that is a luxury item.”
One of the areas the Georgia group liked about New Roots’ approach was the partnerships it had formed with area farmers.
“Hopefully this year we will incorporate something similar, by forecasting and designing a plan that is similar if not mimicking exactly what is going on here,” said Musa Hasan, a farmer and researcher at Emory University.
Jalal said that by working directly with farmers and guaranteeing them that someone is going to buy their products, it gives them more freedom to grow different things instead of “safe” items that always sell.
“This gives them an opportunity to focus on growing and not trying to predict and look into the future,” she said. “I think a lot of farmers play it safe because they know a lot of people are going to eat tomatoes, or peaches, so I would love to demonstrate that if we dedicate this one space and we can guarantee that that this one thing you grow is going to be purchased by us, that just has to provide a whole lot of freedom. I hope to share that with our farmers.”
Having chefs at each of the Fresh Stop Markets also was a big hit with the Georgia contingent.
“Having someone show the shareholders who may not be familiar with all the local vegetables, this is what (a share item) is, this is what you can do with it, this is the benefit of this veggie, and this is the actual farm that this came from, that's the other great thing about New Roots,” Hasan said.
Lois Peterson, a Georgia Farmers’ Market Association board member, said getting to work with New Roots and the Fresh Stop Markets has provided them with an entire model they can plug into their own neighborhoods.
“It’s very much duplicatable at this point because there is a methodology and a system for everything,” she said, “from projecting how much the farmers will grow to, how much is needed for the physical set up, how to set up the food, how to share the information, how to invite the volunteer chefs.”
Karyn, Michael, and Rootbound Farm’s Seamus Allman will travel to Georgia to speak at and participate in the GFMA’s annual conference at the end of November. The hope and dream is that the partnership will result in thriving Fresh Stop Markets in Georgia for the 2018 growing season.
When New Roots Board member Jake Miller met KiZAN Technologies leader Nathan Fornwalt at a Louisville entrepreneur meet up in early 2017, they immediately began brainstorming ways to help one another. Jake was in search of the right company to help New Roots with IT needs and KiZAN was looking to get more involved in the community. It was a match made in the kale field!
KiZAN Technologies is a Louisville-based IT Company, or, as they describe themselves on their website, “a family of information technology Rock Stars.” KiZAN specializes in consulting services for organizations, companies, or any other entities that would like to see the technology they use better catered to their unique needs.
For New Roots, ‘unique needs’ is a phrase that gets tossed around so often that it’s beginning to lose some of its—how do we say—uniqueness. At the New Roots World Headquarters on Portland Avenue, efficient technology is not wanted, but needed. What most folks may not realize is that New Roots runs on Google Drive. From Spreadsheets to Docs, these Google applications have become invaluable. When not using Google Drive, New Roots staff can be found either trying to adjust their website design, or getting lost somewhere in the online ordering system.
Unfortunately, New Roots has grown too large and too different to run on off-the-shelf technology. This is where KiZAN Technologies has begun to help. This is where KiZAN Technologies comes in. Working pro bono during their weekends, KiZAN team members are attacking many of New Roots technology issues.
“I loved the idea of working with New Roots and thought it was a great way to give back to the community, while also getting some delicious, fresh vegetables,” said Justin Tindle, a senior consultant at KiZAN. “We always wanted to do more community service with organizations, but I think we just never found the right opportunity.”
Justin is one of those KiZAN members who has spent his Saturday mornings (at what they call “Hackathons”) laying out the framework for a new and improved online system that streamlines many of the tedious tasks New Roots staff currently deals with.
This new relationship was not one-sided, however. New Roots Administrative Coordinator, Sarah Dugan, who takes the brunt of the technology problems, had a good feeling about KiZAN from the moment she first visited their offices. “When we were on our way to their conference room we couldn’t resist checking on what sorts of snacks they had to offer. Granola and fresh fruit were featured in attractive baskets on the counter.” That would suffice for Sarah, who left that day feeling like New Roots’ and KiZAN’s values were already aligned. “Since then,” Sarah says, KiZAN has “been sucked into ‘the vortex’ of our movement in a meaningful way.”
Board member Scott Drake, Director of Technology at ScholarRx was, with Jake, a co-founder of this project, and has taken the lead for the New Roots' board.
The New Roots, especially Sarah, is excited about the future. “We could streamline communications between all roles at individual markets as well as system-wide. It opens up some really exciting possibilities. I always joke that a Hackathon with them feels like therapy,” Sarah says. “It’s just an amazing feeling when someone examines all the many moving parts of getting veggies into the hands of our shareholders, has the passion for social justice to want to help, AND the skills to make it happen. We are very lucky.” When asked if she loves KiZAN, Sarah responded appropriately, “from my head to-ma-toes!”
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.”
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.
In early 2015, New Roots Director Karyn Moskowitz received a call from the Humana Foundation. An employee—Jake Miller—had recently returned from a decade of leadership at Walgreens and Target to work for Humana Corporation in his hometown of Louisville. Jake Miller, now founder of Toggle Health, a medical equipment start up, knew that once he realized that Fresh Stop Markets could essentially save lives, New Roots had to declare a bold and audacious goal of spreading the model across the region. First, some serious changes that would streamline and codify Fresh Stop Market processes needed to happen.
“When my wife and I visited our first Fresh Stop Market in 2015, we met Karyn, and she gave us each a big hug. The entire Fresh Stop Market experience was incredible. My role since then has been to figure out how to help bring the Fresh Stop Market experience, ‘the hug’, to as many people as possible. I learned a bunch from Karyn about community organizing, food justice, and non-profit work; and we worked with the team to put these New Roots strengths together with more streamlined and replicable processes in a new and unique way,” said Miller.
“Once we set our expansion goal, we realized we needed to make it easier to set-up and run each of the Markets, or we would never be able to grow.” Miller says that there were three things done to make that happen:
What followed was a picture of what the "perfect" Fresh Stop Market could look like. “We did our best to bridge the gaps between those two pictures,” Miller said.
Miller says one example of this gap bridging was investing and simplifying. “The equipment was not of great quality, so it would break easily, and storage was always a problem,” Miller said. “Now we pool the resources across multiple Markets (since they are on different days) which allows us to buy nicer, sturdier equipment that we deliver to each Fresh Stop Market when they need it.” He also said that by centralizing some activities, i.e., oversight of New Roots bank accounts, publication of the newsletter, ordering the produce into the New Roots Hub, this freed up our volunteer leaders to focus on delivering the ‘hug’, the best possible experience for our communities.”
“This new more sustainable model gave us a unifying purpose for the future. We went out in January 2016 to the Just Food! Conference at Harvard Law School and again in January 2017 in Lexington to the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Conference and presented the model to people from all over the United States. We got a big rush,” Moskowitz said.
Miller says that New Roots has evolved into an organization that can dream big and is developing the people, processes, and platforms to deliver on that dream. “We are building a culture of continual improvement that gives everyone involved the power to help make us better.”
What’s on the horizon for the next year?
‘We just received a small Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant to bring leaders and farmers from the Georgia Farmers’ Market Association here in late September to interact with staff and leaders and see the Markets in action. Some of our leaders will be headed to Georgia in late November to share. We are writing a larger SARE grant to help fund a pilot Market. Our hope is to test the model in Clayton County, Georgia in 2018.”
In life, sometimes you find your passion. At other times, that passion finds you.
That's what happened to Peter Champelli, a sophomore at Ithaca College in New York, when he began doing volunteer work for New Roots as a student at Dupont Manual High School.
“My friend Amanda Tu was the first person who introduced me to New Roots, and she was a formal intern,” he said. “From there, I got to know Karyn (Moskowitz) pretty well. In 2014 as a sophomore, I started filming promotional and documentary work for them, which the primary purpose was promoting the Fresh Stop Markets. My biggest project that started my work with them was a video in November 2014 documenting their Veggie Rx Project that ended up raising (money) for the organization.”
Champelli said when he first became involved with New Roots, he didn’t know much about food equality and justice issues.
"As soon as I was introduced to Karyn and the team and started attending events, I realized it was something I was passionate about,” he said. “It was something I could use my personal skills and passions to give back in a way that I couldn’t with other things.”
He continued his video and documentary work through his junior and senior year, providing New Roots with video content they could share with potential donors and the community, offering a better idea of the different initiatives being offered.
“I filmed an event where they were leading workshops (Veggie Rx) with children to teach them about healthy eating and fitness,” Champelli said. “There was also an interview series with attendees. The last project I did was a New Roots sponsored event called a Food Summit at Bellarmine University.”
As has been the case for others over the years, becoming involved with New Roots led to doors being opened for Champelli. Searching for a college, he stumbled across what turned out to be his dream school, Ithaca, a private school whose tuition might have been out of reach for him if not for his New Roots background.
"New Roots helped provide a path for Champelli."
“Ithaca offers the Park Scholarship to a minimum of 10 high school seniors every year, for students who show a passion for communications and community service,” he said. “It was a combination of the community service I showed through my work with New Roots, and the communication skills, like video production that I’ve been developing, which also helped me in that area. I can thank New Roots on both accounts for helping me get that scholarship.”
The scholarship requires students to continue their community service at Ithaca, and again, New Roots helped provide a path for Champelli.
"I was the graphic design coordinator for an organization called Food for Thought, and they deal with food justice and food issues around the world,” he said. “I did all of the graphic design work for their promotion of an event called, the Walk for Plumpy’Nut, which was a 5K walk for fundraising to send money to doctors who are developing a substance that is similar to peanut butter called Plumpy’Nut. It’s doctor’s preferred substance for treating malnutrition cases.”
Champelli is studying emerging media, which is a combination of video production, media studies, and computer science, skills he hopes to continue to use to help other people.
“Not only was New Roots a great place for me to use my skills in video production and to give back in a way that I cared about, but it also gave me a lot of information and passion to continue working in food justice.”
Kristen Williams decided to become a vegan three years ago after the birth of her son. She quickly found a growing community of African American vegans who relate this diet with personal liberation from historic and modern oppression. The diet allotted to enslaved people in this nation consisted of weeds, surplus produce, and the worst parts of the animals such as feet, tongue, and intestines. However, because of the resilience and genius of African Americans they made refuse into modern day southern comfort foods inspired by their knowledge of African cooking. They didn’t just make do, they created a genre of cooking still celebrated today and co-opted by the likes Paula Deen and company. Like our friend, Michael Twitty shared, “do you really think the recipe for KFC came from the Colonel”?
Comfort food paired with oppression and political violence create an environment where disease and morbidity run rampant. Those who struggle with poverty often face a plethora of unhealthy options in their communities. It occurred to Kristen that the food in her community was like a feeding trough filled with unhealthy food and marketed to people who look like her. When people can’t afford healthy food (or even find it) they suffer. Kristen sees this as an act of violence that can be resolved by community efforts like that of New Roots to create options and share a healthier lifestyle.
Vegans like Kristen choose to eat only food from plants—no meat, cheese, eggs, dairy, and some refrain from eating honey. Bryant Terry, one of the most famous vegan chefs in America today, talks about the role of veganism in African American cuisine.
Kristen and Bryant are part of a growing number of African American vegans in recent years who are eschewing the standard American diet and dispelling not only the prevailing myth that veganism is an affluent White practice, but also debunking stereotypes of African-American cuisine. While African-American vegans have long existed (despite the image the media has long peddled), today high-profile celebrities such as Beyoncé and Bryant are shining a bright spotlight on this healthy lifestyle and inspiring people of color to be more conscious about their food choices.
Mr. Bryant has said, “If we move past the stereotypes of African American cuisine, the foundations are really healthful foods: nutrient-dense greens like mustards and turnips and kale and collards and dandelions, and butter beans and sugar snap peas and pole beans and black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes. Fried chicken, mac and cheese, red velvet cakes? Those are part of the cuisine, but those are the comfort foods, the foods people eat on special occasions. [But] when I think about my own family and my friends, what my family ate growing up in Mississippi and on the farm, what we eat most of the time today, it’s food from the garden, simply prepared, nutrient-rich foods.”
Beyond the political and historical relevance of her diet, Kristen also values the lives of animals and enjoys knowing her diet does not contribute to the suffering and mistreatment of sentient beings. “They are raised in conditions that are unsuitable for living—pigs are crammed into cages together with no room to turn around. Cattle are given hormones so their udders produce more milk, causing a painful amount of excess weight on their body. All of this concerns me and my family. Not only how it affects the animals and the earth, but how it affects our bodies.”
Some of Kristen’s favorite foods include Hummus Burritos made from kale, red peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini and hummus. Her favorite cookbook is “Vegan Soul Kitchen” by Bryant Terry. When it comes to eating out her family enjoys Tai, Chinese and Ethiopian restaurants. She and her husband have lost weight on the vegan diet. They have noticed that their bodies are feeling and looking better. Kristen reflected on the trend in Louisville toward African American vegans, “I only know a handful of African American vegans in Louisville. But the number is growing, especially since all my friends ask for recipes.”
Vegans do need to eat plenty of iron. Kristen eats beets and she feeds her son an iron supplement. She also takes a pre-natal vitamin. “My family eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, and tons and tons of beans and lentils,” she said. “We also eat TVP [Textured Vegetable Protein] and some tofu. I put nutritional yeast on many dishes.” Nutritional yeast is rich in Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate and often Vitamin B12. These are all B vitamins that work as a complex, essentially providing you with energy and helping you to maintain proper brain function. “I try to keep lots of fresh fruit and vegetables around for snacking. I also try to ‘eat a rainbow’ every day making sure to have lots of color on my plate. Our doctors are always happy to see us and frequently remark on how healthy we are. Overall being a vegan is a great way to love your body and enjoy life.”
Diggin' New Roots by Taylor Ryan
New Roots has been planted in the Louisville area since 2009. They support local farming businesses by increasing access to fresh food to families every Thursday via the Fresh Stop Project.
Andre Barbour, partner and local Hart County farmer says, “It has been great to work in a symbiotic relationship with the New Roots Fresh Stop Project. Relationships as such will only prove to be the pilots of rural farm business with urban organizations dedicated to feeding those in metropolitan food hubs like Louisville.”
Seated on the corners of 45th and Market, New Roots digs deeper into the community by acting as an agent of empowerment to families who have limited access to fresh, locally grown food. New Roots welcomes everyone in the community to participate in their Fresh Stop Project. The produce orders are placed ahead of time capping the amount of people who can participate at about 75 families.
There are five Fresh Stops in Louisville, each serving a unique population. The cost of participating ranges in cahoots with one’s financial status. Shareholders who are considered working class may purchase shares of produce for $25 dollars. Shareholders who are low income may purchase shares for $12 dollars and WIC uses pay $6 dollars. Those who pay $25 dollars are helping to subsidize the cost for those who are low income. Each shareholder receives a large bag full of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables that feeds a family of four. On Fresh Stop day you will items such as cucumbers, corn, kale, eggs, eggplant, candy onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, cantaloupe, red potatoes, Kentucky’s only native fruit Paw Paws, and much more. In addition to the beautiful display of produce, the Farmers also sale their local, grass fed, organic meats at a discounted rate for shareholders.
The Fresh Stop is a family affair. New Roots staff and Fresh Stop leaders provide a safe and fun environment while still promoting healthy eating habits. With this program being used to increase awareness in the community’s children it ensures that they will grow to be more knowledgeable about the decisions they make when choosing what foods to consume.
Apart from the Fresh Stop Project, New Roots also facilitates Food Justice Classes that encourage the sharing of food stories, leadership development, healthy eating and home cooking. Community members are encouraged to attend these free classes. Community-minded organizations that are passionate about food can seek guidance in these classes and take the initiative to open and operate more Fresh Stops in the community.
Muhammad Ali Scholar, Dejon Day states, “New Roots gives me humanitarian experience throughout the community as an intern as well as provides me with fresh food weekly. In turn making me a healthier person now that I have the access to the New Roots Project.”
An initiative to bring the Fresh Stop Project to the University of Louisville has sprouted into existence. Intern Dejon Day, a senior in psychology at the university, is in the works of starting the program up with his fraternity brothers of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Thursday August 28 will be the premier of the program’s launch at Iota Phi Theta’s Back to School BBQ and Supply Drive in partnership with the women of Empowering Ladies Together.
Day says, “The incentive is great but the experience lasts a lifetime.”
The New Roots organization is always looking for new volunteers. If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, contact Karyn Moskowitz a call at 502-509-6770 today and become a member of the Fresh Stop family.
The Health Is In the Details