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.