Getting Back to Our “Roots”

Senior Sales Manager for the Louisville Convention & Visitor Bureau

When I tell my friends that my grandmother is 91 year old, walks every day and drives herself to play bridge with her friends, most seem shocked and proceed to tell me that I might be lucky enough to “inherit those genes.”  What I have found in my quest to be the happiest, healthiest person I can be is that luck and genes only play a small role.  My grandmother grew up in a small town where her family farmed and most of the food went straight from the land to their plates. The food wasn’t processed or sprayed with dangerous chemicals. Nor was it shipped across six states and two months old before they purchased it from a grocery store, if they even had access to a grocer.

Gen Howard.

Gen Howard.

There has been a shift in our nation to get back to our roots, when we grew, canned and ate our own food or bought food from a local farmer. Many Louisville residents have started to enjoy local farmers markets in our neighborhoods on Saturdays and enjoy fresh organic produce from their local grocery store. Imagine that you’re a low-income family, working two jobs to make ends meet, have no transportation, and the closest grocery store is many miles away. If you make it to the grocery, it has far less produce and no healthy fresh options available and services three times as many residents as other areas in town. These neighborhoods do exist in Louisville, and the residents in these neighborhoods have a lower life expectancy (by as much as 10 years) than the overall life expectancy in our city.

In October 2013, my Ignite Louisville group, Team ReNew Lou, made up of eight young community leaders, unanimously chose to partner with New Roots. New Roots is a local organization that is giving families a new chance on living longer, healthier lives by providing these low-income neighborhoods in Louisville affordable access to locally grown food. Karyn Moskowitz, the executive director and only full-time employee of New Roots, had the vision and passion to work from a grassroots level in the areas of Shawnee, Wellington Elementary, Wesley House/Preston Highway and Old Louisville. Each neighborhood pools their SNAP Benefits and cash to collectively purchase local food from Kentucky Farmers at wholesale pricing. This is possible through the “Fresh Stop” model, where families purchase and pick up their fresh food at a location in their neighborhood – either a local church or school. New Roots is the only organization in this region that has successfully and sustainably reached across income divides to connect low-income families directly to local farmers so anyone can access affordable, farm-fresh food.

New Roots’ efforts are already changing lives. In 2013, 3,000 adults and children participated in the Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop. More than 95 percent said they ate more fruits and vegetables, cooked more using fruits and vegetables and reduced their own and their family’s intake of sugar-sweetened food and beverages. The health changes have been equally as dramatic: 41 percent percent lost weight, 16 percent decreased their dependence on pharmaceuticals and 24 percent controlled their blood pressure. The impact New Roots has had on farmers is equally impressive, opening new markets for aspiring farmers and injecting $50,000 into the state’s economy each year. In addition, New Roots also educated these communities on food and the importance of making healthy choices through their series of Food Justice Classes.

New Roots is seeing results, but not fast enough. Armed with passion and a successful model, Moskowitz still struggles to find funding and volunteers to support her current Fresh Stops. Her aspirations include opening a second Fresh Stop in Shawnee and bringing on a full-time employee in the next six months. Moskowitz has touched my own life and opened my eyes to the fact that every human being should have the basic right to eat healthy food and have access to purchase healthy food to feed their families. Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to live until they’re 91 and see their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up?  I know I’m thankful every day to still have my grandmother in my life and my children’s lives.

You can help New Roots by contacting Karyn Moskowitz at 502.509.6770 or by volunteering at a Fresh Stop, purchasing a share or assisting with funding a new Fresh Stop at www.newrootsproduce.com.

Gen Howard is the Senior Sales Manager for the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau. She is responsible for selling Louisville as a premier sports destination to customers across the U.S. She assists in bringing national sporting events to the city and generates thousands of room nights each year. Howard has been with the Louisville CVB for over 5 years and has been in the hospitality industry for 15 years.