Shareholders, volunteers and children visit Rootbound Farm, a farm that sells vegetables to New Roots shareholders. | Courtesy of New Roots

New Roots, a food justice organization in Louisville, has received a $100,000 grant from the Humana Foundation to help it expand its reach to more areas.

Karyn Moskowitz is executive director of New Roots. | File Photo

The organization, founded by Karyn Moskowitz, offers local people the opportunity to buy shares of fresh, local, organic produce on a sliding scale based on income. The organization serves about 1,800 families in Louisville, Kentucky and Southern Indiana, and buys produce from about 50 different farms.

The grant will be used to reach more communities and find more shareholders to take part, she said.

“Next year, we’re planning to expand the model to include the Portland neighborhood, Chickasaw and Berrytown, and we’re testing a market in Georgia to see if we can successfully partner with and scale the model to another community,” Moskowitz told Insider.

The shareholders pick up their produce at Fresh Stop food markets, where volunteer community leaders run the sale of the vegetables and liaise with the farmers to decide which items their community wants. Each market — there are 14 now — has its own chef or cook who prepares a vegan recipe to serve to shareholders and their families as they pick up their food.

Children visit Rootbound Farm. | Courtesy of ChooseWell Communities

“It’s really a big leap for many of us,” Moskowitz said. “We’re used to some of us having whatever we want whenever we want, but for a large portion of us in the city, that’s not possible because of where they live and how much money they make. … The leadership is really awesome because all this information on local food is shared among the community. They’re not just passively participating in the program: It’s a movement of people really wanting to make social change.”

Certain areas of the city are deemed “food deserts,” where because of the low-income status of their residents, they offer limited access to fresh foods. There may be no groceries in those areas, or if there are, they have little to no fresh food available.

Lower-income people would have to travel far to a grocery with fresh produce, and farmers markets don’t typically set up in low-income areas. Even if they did, residents would struggle to afford the food sold at farmer’s markets, even more so if the food is certified organic.

One farmer who participates said she was glad of the grant to New Roots and the attempt to bring fresh food to more people.

“I think the work New Roots is doing is important because they’re helping make local food available to communities that otherwise might not have access, helping people get the food that they want, that they think is the healthiest for their families,” said Bree Pearsall, who owns Rootbound Farm in Oldham County with her husband, Ben Abell.

Rootbound does about 20 to 25 percent of its business with New Roots, which gives the farm a stable income for sustainable farming. Moskowitz said the organization is able to pay farmers a little higher than wholesale prices.

Pearsall said the expansion could only be good for New Roots and the communities it serves, as well as local farmers.

“I have no doubt that with their organizational expertise, New Roots will be able to get people to join up, and it will spread from there into new areas,” Pearsall said. “Any expansion is great both from the standpoint of more people having access to fresh food but then also expanding the market, and that we can be putting more local foods on people’s plates. That’s a win for our local food system and for farmers.”

ChooseWell Communities members and volunteers participate in a Chop-n-Chat. | Courtesy of ChooseWell Communities

Melva Smith of the East End doesn’t live in a food desert, but she has special needs, which drove her to join New Roots.

“I’m disabled, and my disability requires me to eat organic because I’m chemically sensitive,” Smith said. “So, being able to obtain my organic vegetables at a price I can afford is really wonderful. I think they’re a wonderful asset to our community.”

She picks up her produce from the Fresh Stop market at the Jewish Community Center on Dutchmans Lane and said she enjoys seeing the same people every week and getting to know them.

“It’s like a family, when you get to know the people, it’s like a family atmosphere,” she said.

Stephanie Barnett, the founder of the Louisville-based ChooseWell Communities, said all the families in her program were shareholders of New Roots. ChooseWell is an organization that supports families that have had substance abuse issues and helps them provide safe, drug-free homes for their young children.

“We also share New Roots’ belief that healthy food is a basic human right and that food justice happens in community,” Barnett said. “We believe that health happens in community. (Our families) have been the beneficiaries of the beautiful food that comes from the amazing farmers.”

Barnett’s families participate in what she calls a Chop-n-Chat, in which the families and volunteers gather around the New Roots food shares and process the food in ways that will make it easier for busy families to cook it.

“So, not only are we accessing the food at a reasonable rate, we’re enjoying the spirit of community as we explore what we can do with turnips,” said Barnett. “‘What are we gonna do with this butternut squash?’ and ‘Oh heck yeah, we love our kale!’ This is how we love our kale — together.”

She said that learning about how to use the produce in recipes is part of the fun. “And the cool thing is, our kids are all part of that process. You cannot believe the kinds of vegetables we’ve gotten into the bellies of some of these little kids!”

For ChooseWell Communities, community is vitally important, Barnett said.

“While we’re chopping that kale, we’re talking about life and what we need to thrive and help us create better lives for ourselves. That builds kinship and connection,” she explained. “When you’re talking about young families, especially those that have been impacted by the disease of addiction, the community of support they used to have is really no longer a community of support for them. So, much of what we do is reweave a community for them.”

New Roots shareholders and volunteers at the Russell Neighborhood Fresh Stop Market. | Courtesy of New Roots

The growing season for 2017 is now over, and the Fresh Stop markets have come to an end. But New Roots is planning a Thanksgiving Farmer Appreciation dinner for its farmers, and is starting the training and planning for next year. Anyone can become a shareholder. Those interested in joining can visit NewRoots.org.

Barnett emphasized the importance of New Roots and its effect on the community.

“The fact that we’ve got underresourced and underserved populations that historically have not been able to get access to affordable, fresh, organic produce that are getting these shares every two weeks, it’s a miracle. It’s totally a miracle,” she said.

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Lisa Hornung a native of Louisville and has worked in local media for more than 15 years as a writer and editor. Before that she worked as a writer, editor and photographer for community newspapers in Kansas, Ohio and Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, and after a 20-year career in journalism, she obtained a master’s degree in history from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016.