Imagine a food justice movement where food insecure communities claim their power to organize and unite with local farmers, so everyone wins. A movement that not only makes healthy food available to underinvested communities that struggle with this challenge daily, but one that appeals to veggie lovers of all races, incomes, and zip codes. A movement that promotes leadership among the same volunteer leaders who personally struggle with the challenges of food insecurity, yet also leverages their ideas and experience to make food equity possible. What you have imagined is not a utopia, but the reality of what can occur when equity is a core tenet of an organization’s work.
New Roots believes fresh, healthy food is a basic human right. Their mission is to work with food insecure communities to build systems for accessing the farm fresh, healthy food we ALL need to be happy and healthy. New Roots is changing the perception that local, organic food is only for those with high incomes, or that all families facing limited resources don’t want to eat healthy food or are somehow to blame for the structural and systemic inequalities in the food system.
New Roots, a grantee of Voices for Healthy Kids, is the food justice organization behind the movement which has tackled the idea of health equity head on and has partnered with food insecure neighborhoods by organizing 14 Fresh Stop Markets across the Kentucky and South Indiana area. Their model is especially unique as it is based on a community-organizing model which is predicated on the idea that the community members will willingly learn the skills necessary to start a healthy food movement within their neighborhoods and share their knowledge with others. The planning and execution of the pop-up Fresh Stop Markets are co-created by New Roots and community leaders and relies heavily on volunteer buy-in. Through this model New Roots is able to keep equity infused in every aspect of the process giving all families the purchasing power to bring healthy, affordable food to their tables.
The success of the movement is based on the business model behind the Fresh Stop Markets and the idea that New Roots is an organization that co-creates processes with community leaders instead of an organization that simply implements a project. They take a grassroots approach to harnessing the power of the community by letting the leaders drive the initiative, and become a healthy food expert, all while strengthening community ties. Locations for Fresh Stop Markets are never decided upon in advance; instead New Roots is pulled into communities facing food insecurity by community leaders who seek their help and guidance. Once leaders are able to form a coalition with other community volunteers, community centers, churches, other non-profits organizations, and businesses, they must get buy-in from each party to create, implement, and sustain their Fresh Stop Markets. Once agreed upon, leaders are then invited to attend the pay-it-forward coaching program called ‘Fresh Stop Training Institute.’ This knowledge-sharing program is self-sustaining since it is taught by seasoned Fresh Stop Market leaders. Topics include price negotiation, ordering, forecasting, community organizing, and SNAP Benefit collection, so that the new leaders gain the skills necessary to run the markets long after New Roots moves on to the next neighborhood.
Fresh Stop Markets, however, are not food access projects where an outsider is purchasing the food, which oftentimes does not last beyond the initial project because funding dries up or there is not sufficient community buy-in. Instead the model is based on the basic principles of economics and can be better described as a social enterprise which is mutually beneficial to all constituents. The Fresh Stop Markets business model leverages strong relationships with local organic farmers, the host site (local churches or community centers), the passion and time of volunteers who take ownership to ensure their neighborhood has access to healthy food, and the concept that everyone, despite their income level, wants access to the best organic food available at affordable prices.
The food is paid for in advance by “shareholders” who guarantee a market for the farmers so that they don’t face the risk of a standard farmers’ market where produce may go unsold. As a result, shareholders are able to pool their money to have the buying power to obtain wholesale prices. Every other week, each shareholder can purchase a share of seasonal produce on a sliding pay scale. Though the Fresh Stop Market shares are primarily reserved for families facing limited resources, 25% of shares are offered to higher income families to ensure there is sufficient money to cover food costs. Higher income families contribute knowing that they are paying at or below retail prices for the produce and knowing that their share is putting more money in the pool so everyone can eat healthy. For those who cannot afford a share the community always finds ways so that no one is denied access to fresh, healthy food – in other words, someone donates a share.
Fresh Stop Market produce is nearly 100 percent locally sourced from 50 local farmers within a 100 mile radius of Louisville. The relationship between the owners and the community members is an example of how to integrate equity into all aspects of a movement. While not required, Fresh Stop Markets go the extra mile to ensure community members have a say in the food that shows up in their community. In January, community members sit down with farmers to determine what the farmer can grow and what the community likes to eat. When the season starts, Fresh Stop Market farmer liaison team members purchase according to what is in season and what has been forecasted. Anyone from any neighborhood can attend any Fresh Stop Market, and in fact the markets have grown beyond a site that just offers fresh, healthy food.
These pop up markets have grown into an anticipated bi-weekly community event where neighbors come together to socialize, learn, and spread awareness of the program. To ensure shareholders are able to eat everything in their basket, Fresh Stop Markets have local professional and novice chefs perform cooking demos on-site using all of the vegetables available in that week’s share. Local community volunteers or “veggie cheerleaders” are also on-site to advocate for each vegetable and to share tips about cooking and storing the produce. These roles tap into the expertise, knowledge, and context of the local community instead of relying solely on outside volunteers.
Beyond this major initiative, New Roots also holds food justice workshops, partners with organizations on health equity campaigns, runs farm tours, raises funding for the Fresh Stop Markets, and speaks on behalf of food justice around the country. However, New Roots acknowledges that in order to expand their impact beyond the local communities they work in, to create widespread, sustainable impact on food access, the natural progression is for them to enter into the policy space. To start to overcome the effects of institutional biases and impact healthy food access policies, New Roots has become an incubator grantee of the Voices for Healthy Kid’s Strategic Campaign Incubator Fund. The grant kick-started New Roots’ policy work enabling its board of directors to approve the creation of a policy team with the goal to eventually address health inequity on all levels—local, state, and federal.
As part of the incubator grant, New Roots has partnered with the American Heart Association on the ‘Healthy 4 Louisville’ initiative, a coalition effort to enact policy change that increases parents access to healthy beverage options for their children at all Louisville, KY restaurants. Sugary beverage companies market to communities of color and low-income communities at a higher rate, as much as three times more than their counterparts. Enacting a kids’ meal policy will help ensure kids’ meal access to healthier drinks while eating out and start to change the social norms around what a kids’ meal should be. Given New Roots’ history of being grounded in the community and being led by engaged volunteers, the kids’ meal campaign greatly benefits from being connected with close advocates and parents who will directly benefit from the policy change. Having those most impacted by policy change being a key component of the campaign is a prime example of health equity in action! In another example of letting community issues drive their work, New Roots is working to convince the State Department of Agriculture to recognize Fresh Stop Markets as official farmers’ markets. Without the official designation, senior citizens who are given food vouchers for fresh food cannot redeem them at the Fresh Stop Markets.
New Roots is clearly igniting a movement to ensure all people have access to a basic need–affordable, healthy food. Its grassroots efforts have shown communities they have the power to find a sustainable, economical and accessible solution to food insecurity. Now communities, not just organizations, are able to mobilize for health equity together.