Come for the Food, Stay for the Community: The New Roots “Fresh Stop” Project
New Roots, Inc., based in Louisville, Ky., is a nonprofit organization created in response to local food deserts. The mission of New Roots is to ignite communities to come together, share knowledge and build relationships with farmers to secure access to fresh food. The vision is that affordable fresh food will be accessible and enjoyed year-round in the communities we serve.
Fresh Stop, one of New Roots' programs, was created to address the lack of fresh produce in Louisville neighborhoods. It is a community-driven fresh-food access project where families pool their money and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase in bulk from local farmers on a sliding scale. Each family receives a "share" of seasonal produce that feeds 2-4 people, depending on the Fresh Stop. (See Figure 1.) New Roots' food justice classes are offered periodically during the year and are training grounds for neighborhood leaders who want to drive, lead and sustain the Fresh Stops.
Fresh Stops are the fruit of community organizing and cooperative economics, a process facilitated by New Roots. These community-owned food-distribution programs function similarly to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. Unlike a traditional CSA, shareholders are not required to pay one lump sum at the beginning of the harvesting season. Instead, shareholders have the option of purchasing a share of local, fresh, seasonal produce three days prior to the Fresh Stop pick-up day.
New Roots Fresh Stops have been described as "vegetable flashmobs"; pick-up days become meeting places for families and friends. Farmers arrive with hundreds of pounds of produce and, instantly, volunteers spring into action, carrying the produce into the building, counting every single fruit and vegetable, and finally arranging it all in a presentable, appealing manner. (See Figure 2.)
The first time I experienced this level of collaboration, I was stunned—in awe at what a community could accomplish when they work together, organize and empower one another. This level of commitment and love is contagious. It is passed on with every hug, handshake, smile and word of encouragement. New Roots does not aid the community; New Roots is the community. Together we facilitate learning. We empower one another. We build relationships between communities and local farmers, creating a sense of trust that is rare in today's food system.
In 2014, thanks to the funding of the Humana Foundation, New Roots piloted the region's first vegetable prescription program, affectionately called Veggie Rx. For six weeks, families with children between the ages of 6 and 13 receive a prescription for farm-fresh produce instead of pharmaceuticals in an attempt to prevent diet-related illness. The families engage in physical activity, food justice classes and hands-on cooking for two hours once a week. Thus far, New Roots has impacted 25 families and hopes to increase that number in 2015.
In addition to Veggie Rx, New Roots has ignited another project that will make the Fresh Stop model even more sustainable. Currently, Louisville has five Fresh Stops, with plans to launch five more by June 2015 and more on the waiting list. Meeting the demand for more Fresh Stops has become the group's greatest concern and organizational challenge.
At present, each Fresh Stop is developed individually, a process that demands the full time and resources of the organization's two paid staff members and volunteer leaders. The model has proven to be extremely effective for reaching families living in Louisville's most food-insecure neighborhoods.
However, this process of starting one neighborhood Fresh Stop at a time does not allow for maximum impact. Thus, for sustainability of the organization and the urgent need to empower those who want to claim their human right to healthy food, New Roots has proposed the Fresh Stop Training Institute (FSTI, accordingly pronounced "feisty"). FSTI will use a "leader-training-leaders" model to share best practices with multiple neighborhoods at once, elevating the collective power of the network.
New Roots employs a democratic community-organizing model to empower community leaders with the knowledge and tools to sustain a Fresh Stop. Through FSTI, New Roots will assemble a strong foundation of diverse volunteers who are able to raise awareness about food justice and work in solidarity with local leaders.
New Roots has evolved a great deal since its conception in 2009. Karyn Moskowitz founded the organization with the investment of one single unemployment check and has been unstoppable ever since. Today, New Roots has a strong and diverse board of directors composed mostly of entrepreneurs and two full-time staff members. New Roots has been recognized on the local and national level. In November 2014, the organization placed second out of 21 entrepreneurs who presented projects at the Slow Money National Gathering Entrepreneur Showcase. With continued support, New Roots will continue to build capacity and impact more communities that are invested in the health of their residents, neighbors and families.
Amber Burns is the assistant director of New Roots, Inc., and Fresh Stop Project in Louisville, Ky.