By Ellen Nason
Karyn Moskowitz’s passion for providing everyone access to good, affordable food led her to form New Roots in 2009, sowing seeds for healthy change in lower-income areas in Louisville, Kentucky. Five years later, the people living in those areas are reaping the rewards of having access to locally grown produce as they work together to make their communities stronger and healthier.
New Roots has worked with several local communities to open weekly or bi-weekly Fresh Stops, where local farmers provide organic produce at low prices in lower-income “food deserts,” which are areas that do not offer easy access to fresh, nutritious and affordable foods. The community participants pool their resources, buying shares that entitle them to a large quantity of fresh food delivered to a neighborhood location by local farmers, who gain a stable market for their products. The cost of the shares range from $12 to $25 and are based on income. A typical Fresh Stop delivery includes 10-15 items, such as tomatoes, carrots, kale, lettuce, squash, watermelon, corn, cabbage, peppers or okra. The items vary, depending on season and availability.
Nathaniel Spencer, a Fresh Stop shareholder and lifelong resident of the Shawnee neighborhood in Louisville, said he has seen positive change in the community because of the program.
“We needed this,” he said recently while helping sort produce delivered by Andre Barbour of Barbour Farms. “It’s a no-brainer if you care about people. The neighborhood is excited… we love the fresh food and the fellowship.”
The Fresh Stops, which are run by the shareholders and local volunteers, provide nutritious food and a place for community residents to gather, learn and renew relationships – or form new ones. Spencer said one shareholder, who is in her 80s, rekindled a childhood friendship. The two women had not seen each other in decades until meeting at the local Fresh Stop even though they both lived in the neighborhood. He also gave examples of health improvements, such as a young man who has lost more than 80 pounds in the three years he has had access to a healthier diet.
The success of the Fresh Stops, now feeding 550 families, has led to the creation of Veggie Rx, a pilot program with a goal of broadening the reach and health benefits of the farmer’s markets. The unique, multigenerational program is administered by New Roots and supported through a Humana Foundation grant. Its goal is to encourage lifelong well-being in families who spend time together in fun, healthful activities such as:
- Cooking classes, using produce and meat provided by the same local farmers who provide the produce for New Roots’ Fresh Stops
- Physical activity with a personal trainer
- Food justice classes
The pilot, divided into two sessions held on six successive Monday evenings, also provides the participating families with a “prescription” for a free share of produce at a Fresh Stop. The prescription for nutritious food has the same goal as a prescription for medication: improve health and help people live longer, happier lives. The program encourages families to participate and learn together, sharing an experience that will make it easier to make positive behavioral change that may prevent chronic diseases linked to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. The program requires participation of children as part of its goal to lay the foundation for making healthier choices throughout life.
The enthusiasm of participants of all ages during a recent Veggie Rx class shows that it is certainly a realistic goal. Tania Barbour, 8, said she looks forward to Mondays and now loves to cook because she “likes seeing how the food mixtures go together.” She and her sister, Tiana, 12, were active participants in personal trainer LaKesha Perry’s exercise class as well as the cooking class, where nutritional information is given along with recipes and instruction. Leona Starks’ three grandsons, ages 4-9, and Meghan Calloway’s two children, 2 and 6, eagerly sampled all of the raw vegetables before they were added to the dish the families were making.
Calloway, whose dad and younger brother joined her and her children at Veggie Rx, said she hopes the program helps her children get an early start on a lifetime of healthy habits. She had already used a Veggie Rx prescription at a recent Fresh Stop, which she said was “awesome,” offering better quality and price than she would find elsewhere.
The first of two sessions of the pilot ended this week and is already showing positive results with one participant reporting a 20-pound weight loss during the six-week session. The next session begins Monday, October 13, at the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Louisville’s Shawnee neighborhood.
Moskowitz, who attends and participates in the Veggie Rx classes, sees the program, along with the Fresh Stops, as a way to nourish future community leaders and to keep people engaged and empowered to improve their own health and well-being.
“This is a community-driven program,” she said. “It’s their church, their family. It’s changing their lives. They come for the food but stay for the community.”
For more information about these programs or how to volunteer or donate, go to the New Roots website or contact Karyn Moskowitz at (502) 509-6770.