New Roots, ‘building a movement’ of healthy food in the city

New Roots is a nonprofit organization working to help Louisville neighborhoods in so-called food deserts to gain access to fresh, healthy food. Starting with the belief that fresh water, clean air and healthy food are human rights, New Roots works with communities to create a local food system that is sustainable and accessible for consumers and farmers. New Roots launched in 2009, feeding 70 families, and 985 in the 2015 season. It is funded by donations from foundations, corporations and individuals. We caught up with the founder and executive director, Karyn Moskowitz, and two of her staff members, Amber Burns and Mary Montgomery, to learn more.

LEO: Tell us about New Roots and how it started.

Karyn Moskowitz: After several attempts to serve food deserts in our communities with traditional farmers markets, we realized that wasn’t working in some Louisville neighborhoods. Farmers and consumers both believed that everyone should have access to farm fresh foods, but the farmers were not able to earn money, and the retail prices were not affordable in some communities. Everyone was frustrated, and so I looked for a model that would work. I finally came upon a program out of Cleveland called City Fresh and adapted it to serve the Louisville area.

LEO: Explain what a food desert is and how it creates food injustice in our region.

Amber Burns: A food desert is a community that has no access to quality foods. Their local grocery does not supply quality and/or fresh food, forcing residents to leave their communities to find fresh foods. Often these same residents don’t have any transportation, complicating the issue.

KM: There is clear data that shows that communities that lack access to fresh food have higher rates of violence and lower levels of educational attainment.

Mary Montgomery: There are direct health issues connected to poor eating habits, including diabetes.

LEO: What are the continuing barriers that our region faces and New Roots is up against?

KM: We are dealing with the corporate food industry and its control, industrial farming, monopoly retail and wrong beliefs about our community. These influences combined continue to impact and perpetuate this issue locally and globally.

LEO: What is your model?

AB: We use a system we call Fresh Stop Markets. These are pop-up markets at local churches, community centers and housing authorities that are community-run. We work kind of like a co-op, so the food has been paid for in advance. This way farmers don’t face the same degree of risk as they would with a standard farmers market. Because we have worked together to buy in bulk, we can negotiate for wholesale prices that make the produce affordable for residents. We’re doing more than just selling food here. We’re building a movement, In addition to feeding families our model has created opportunities for education and leadership through food justice and chef classes.

MM: People who join in become shareholders each season. This really gives us and them a sense of pride and ownership, and we only work with communities who invite us in. All new markets are mentored by existing markets during the growing season. In January, farm liaisons, like me, work with local farmers to forecast what they would like the farmers to grow for their community. We’ve partnered with over 50 Kentucky and Southern Indiana farmers, and some of these same farmers are sharing our philosophy and building this into their business plan creating sustainability for our community.

LEO: How can others get involved?

KM: We offer many ways for the community to join us: Food Justice Classes are held in March and April, and our Fresh Stop Training Institute runs in April and May. We will kick off the season with our fifth-annual Strawberry Jamm Festival on May 19 (held at the Shawnee Fresh Stop Market site at Redeemer Lutheran Church). The markets begin the second week in June and go biweekly for 20 weeks. The New Albany Fresh Stop Market will pilot a year-round market. [In] October, we offer farm tours, and November is [the] Farmer Appreciation potluck/Fresh Stop Market. During December, we host our Market holiday dinner. •

Flannery is a wellness coach who teaches yoga throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana. She promotes wellness through her show “The Wellness Hour,” at 11 a.m. Sundays on 100.9 WCHQ.