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New Roots Fights for Food Justice in Louisville, KY

August 4, 2015 |

Photo courtesy of New Roots

Photo courtesy of New Roots

The neighborhoods west of Ninth Street in Louisville, Kentucky have a reputation for crime and violence. Here, poverty combines with negative perceptions. One result is that the area is considered to be a food desert, where residents have limited access to fresh, healthy food.

New Roots, Inc., a food justice focused nonprofit founded in 2009, is working hard to change minds and increase food access in the area.

In a city with 27 farmers’ markets and a veritable smorgasbord of restaurants, the area west of Ninth Street in Louisville has little to no fresh food opportunities for the community. According to Karyn Moskowitz, founder of New Roots, inner city residents are dealing with more than just prejudice and gun violence.

“I feel very safe there. Food violence is a lot more prevalent and dangerous than gun violence,” says Moskowitz. “People are being targeted by companies and become addicted to certain highly addictive foods. They are getting sick and dying much more so than from gun violence.”

A former environmental consultant in Oregon, Moskowitz moved to Louisville to be a farmers’ market coordinator. After seeing the startling gap in local food access, Moskowitz felt compelled to start her non-profit, New Roots, Inc. in 2009. “There’s a lot of opportunity for food system development as there is no food,” says Moskowitz. “It’s just crazy.”

New Roots utilizes a “cooperative economics” business model to run their main program called Fresh Stops. Fresh Stops are pick up/drop off points around the city. Neighbors pool their money to purchase from farmers at wholesale prices. By collaborating with local farmers’ market vendors, Fresh Stop users purchase two weeks of fresh fruit and vegetables for their family for bargain basement prices.

“It’s a way for families who don’t have a lot of income themselves to be able to work with other families. Instead of saying ‘well I don’t have enough to do anything myself,’ thinking ‘if we pool resources we’ll have a big pot of money to invest.’ That’s what the Fresh Stop is. It’s a big pool of money every other week linked to a certain location,” says Moskowitz. The locations are often connected to local community hubs such as churches.

By pooling community resources, low-income neighborhoods have fresh food bargaining power. For members on WIC, a share costs $6. For members receiving other financial assistance, a share is $12. All other members are expected to pay $25.  All the contributions are combined, and everyone receives the same amount of produce regardless of their initial investment. There are currently seven Fresh Stops in Louisville and two outside the city in Lexington and Brandenberg

To extend the reach of the New Roots concept, Moskowitz encourages local physicians to write prescriptions for healthy food to their patients. The “Veggie RX” program allows community members to bring their subscriptions to a Fresh Stop for free produce. Still in its infancy, Veggie RX is gaining ground, building nutritional education within the community. The program is funded by the Humana Foundation.

“The goal is to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables by focusing on physician investment. So recruiting physicians to talk about food insecurity and fruits and vegetables with food-insecure patients,” says Moskowitz. Our medical school doesn’t teach any nutrition. It’s the same for a lot of medical schools. They are not in front of their patients talking about preventative medicine.”

Local leadership is a large part of New Roots mission. “We work with community members to share knowledge and create opportunities for leadership around food justice,” says Moskowitz. New Roots hosts food justice speakers, encourages residents to take the lead in managing the Fresh Stops and is in the process of creating a Fresh Stop Training Institute for its members.

Moskowitz cites one of her staff members, Mary Montgomery, a powerhouse of vendor relations and food justice knowledge as a great example of the barriers faced by urban community members. “Now she is one of the top experts, probably in the state, on local food purchasing and farmer negotiations. And of course she is never called upon to be a speaker or have articles about her because there’s this systemic racism that stops people believing that people of color are doing this themselves.” Montgomery heads the organization’s farmer liaison team and oversees most of the Fresh Stops in the city while also serving as coordinator of the Shawnee Fresh Stop.

Despite the uphill battle against the perception of urban residents, New Roots is thriving and growing and Moskowitz’s love of her adopted home apparent. “This is just the most incredible city; just a very magical place,” says Moskowitz. “It’s a million people, but everybody knows everybody. People are friendly, warm and inviting.”

Moskowitz hopes to increase the number of Fresh Stops wherever a need arises. Shortly she hopes to create a franchise manual for people to replicate the cooperative economics model across the state and around the country.  

New Roots, Inc., a food justice focused nonprofit founded in 2009, is working hard to change minds and increase food access in the area.

In a city with 27 farmers’ markets and a veritable smorgasbord of restaurants, the area west of Ninth Street in Louisville has little to no fresh food opportunities for the community. According to Karen Markowitz, founder of New Roots, inner city residents are dealing with more than just prejudice and gun violence.

“I feel very safe there. Food violence is a lot more prevalent and dangerous than gun violence,” says Markowitz. “People are being targeted by companies and become addicted to certain highly addictive foods. They are getting sick and dying much more so than from gun violence.”

A former environmental consultant in Oregon, Markowitz moved to Louisville to be a farmers’ market coordinator. After seeing the startling gap in local food access in Louisville’s “ghetto,” Markowitz felt compelled to start her non-profit, New Roots, Inc. in 2009.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for food system development as there is no food,” says Markowitz. “It’s just crazy.”

New Roots utilizes a “cooperative economics” business model to run their main program called Fresh Stops. Fresh Stops are pick-up/drop-off points around the city. Neighbors pool their money to purchase from farmers at wholesale prices. By collaborating with local farmers’ market vendors, Fresh Stop users purchase two weeks of fresh fruit and vegetables for their family for bargain basement prices.

“It’s a way for families who don’t have a lot of income themselves to be able to work with other families. Instead of saying ‘well I don’t have enough to do anything myself,’ thinking ‘if we pool resources we’ll have a big pot of money to invest.’ That’s what the Fresh Stop is. It’s a big pool of money every other week linked to a certain location,” says Markowitz. The locations connect to local community hubs such as churches.

By pooling community resources, low-income neighborhoods have fresh food bargaining power. For members on WIC, a share costs $6. For members receiving other financial assistance, a share is $12. All other members are expected to pay $25.  All the contributions are combined, and everyone receives the same amount of produce regardless of their initial investment. There are currently nine Fresh Stops in Louisville.

To extend the reach of the New Roots concept, Markowitz encourages local physicians to write prescriptions for healthy food to their patients. The “Veggie RX” program allows community members to bring their subscriptions to a Fresh Stop for free produce. Still in its infancy, Veggie RX is gaining ground, building nutritional education within the community. The program is funded by the Humana Foundation.

The goal is to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables by focusing on physician investment. So recruiting physicians to talk about food insecurity and fruits and vegetables with food-insecure patients. Our medical school doesn’t teach any nutrition. It’s the same for a lot of medical schools. They are not in front of their patients talking about preventative medicine

Local leadership is a large part of New Roots mission. “We work with community members to share knowledge and create opportunities for leadership around food justice,” says Markowitz.

New Roots hosts food justice conferences, encourages residents to take the lead in managing the Fresh Stops and is in the process of creating a Fresh Stop Training Institute for its members.

Markowitz cites one of her staff members, Mary Montgomery, a powerhouse of vendor relations and food justice knowledge, as a great example of the barriers faced by urban community members.

“She is one of the top experts, probably in the state, on local food purchasing and farmer negotiations. And of course, she is never called upon to be a speaker or have articles about her because there’s this systemic racism that stops people believing that people of color are doing this themselves.”

Montgomery heads the organization’s farmer liaison team and oversees all nine of the Fresh Stops in the city.

Despite the uphill battle against the perception of urban residents, New Roots is thriving and growing and Markowitz’s love of her adopted home apparent. “This is just the most incredible city; just a very magical place,” says Markowitz. “It’s a million people, but everybody knows everybody. People are friendly, warm and inviting.”

Markowitz hopes to increase the number of Fresh Stops wherever a need arises. Shortly she hopes to create a franchise manual for people to replicate the cooperative economics model across the state and around the country.

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