Impact of Community Assist Grants: Where Are They Now?

How New Roots Utilized Funding to Support Fresh Stop Markets Program

For some families in Southern Indiana, finding fresh and healthy produce is as simple as driving to your local Kroger, loading up a cart, and heading back home to prepare it.

While that might seem like a typical Saturday morning for some, there are countless others around Clark and Floyd counties that simply can’t afford the same liberties. Whether it is due to transportation / mobility issues or financial insecurity, there are invisible barriers preventing some locals from having access to healthy, fresh food.

According to the 2021 Priorities for Progress Community Needs Assessment (CNA), Clark and Floyd counties saw important reductions in food insecurity between 2015 and 2020. However, those gains disappeared amid the COVID-19 recession, with food insecurity increasing almost 3% since 2019.

New Roots’ Karyn Moskowitz has witnessed these struggles for families first-hand. As the Executive Director at New Roots – a small, grassroots nonprofit organization in Louisville – Moskowitz and her team work directly with families facing limited food resources, helping them overcome them overcome obstacles to healthy nutrition.

Addressing this systemic issue that commonly occurs in low-income communities, doesn’t have an immediate solution. Instead, it involves tackling the issue from a variety of angles to ensure its sustainability and effectiveness – a task that Moskowitz and her team have been working toward for more than a decade.

“Eating healthy should not be seen as a privilege – it’s a basic human right,” says Moskowitz. “But we also recognize there is a hidden barrier to just giving someone fresh food. That’s where we’re trying to help.”

How the Fresh Stop Market Works

We’ve all been there – it’s dinnertime and nobody in the family has the energy to prepare a meal. So what’s the solution for most?

“It’s fast food,” Moskowitz says. “One of the biggest hurdles we must overcome is shifting families to fresh food. With the high cost of fresh food compared to processed and fast food, it’s easy to see how families can fall into this trap. When you mix in targeted marketing for unhealthy foods, lack of experience cooking from scratch, and poor proximity to markets, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

So New Roots devised a plan to help those suffering from poor food nutrition and selection: a Fresh Stop Market in their neighborhood.

Thanks in part to four grants totaling $45,000 from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana over the past six years, New Roots has been able to build and expand their farm-fresh food markets to even more fresh food-insecure neighborhoods. While funding has helped support a part-time marketing manager position and operational costs, such as maintaining the nonprofit’s beet mobile truck, most of the funding has gone to local farmers for their produce. A $10,000 emergency grant from CFSI’s COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund also kept operations moving during the height of the pandemic, a critical life preserver for local families trying to stay afloat during that time.

“There are food deserts in parts of New Albany, especially since most of the lower-income grocery store options have closed in the past few years,” says Dana Pinkston, marketing manager at New Roots. “The need for fresh, healthy food options is very real in this area and in other bubbles across Southern Indiana.”

Currently, eight Fresh Stop Markets operate under New Roots’ umbrella, including one located at Sojourn Church on Silver Street in New Albany. These markets pop up every two weeks during growing season (June-November) at area churches, businesses, and community centers.

Shareholders, or customers, pay on an income-based sliding scale that is both fair and equitable. This includes those paying with SNAP Benefits and/or Food Stamps, who pay $6 for a bag containing nine varieties of fresh, local, mostly certified organic vegetables and some fruit. In 2016, when CFSI awarded New Roots its first-ever grant of $15,000, the organization was serving 52 Southern Indiana families biweekly. Now, thanks to the financial assistance, the Fresh Stop Markets connects 90-100 families with local, organic farm-fresh produce every other week.

“About a year in, we had roughly 350 total families participating at that time,” Moskowitz says. “Just this past year, we were at 715 families, or 2,145 individuals. So not only did our Southern Indiana numbers almost double, our region-wide numbers did, too. But most importantly, our retention rate for families staying for the entire growing season has stayed around 95%, with roughly 85% of Southern Indiana past shareholders continuing to participate each year.”

The program’s top rate is $40, and most who pay at that level feel good that their shares will subsidize some of their neighbors facing resource challenges. Everyone gets the same bag of food, regardless of what they pay.

Moskowitz also says that the Fresh Stop Market will never turn anyone away who needs the nutrition.

So Fresh and So Clean – How Veggies Can Change Lives

So what is it that makes New Roots’ Fresh Stop Market so important for the community as a whole?

For starters, they are the only local, organic, affordable produce in Clark and Floyd counties.

But their program benefits more than just shareholders who sign up. Its thoughtful approach is bigger than just providing a family with a bag of fresh food – it gives families an opportunity to make a real change in how they live their life.

For some in our community, food is medicinal, especially those suffering from diabetes and heart disease. By incorporating a fresh, plant-based addition to a daily diet, some of the health-related illnesses can be completely preventable. It can also help fight against obesity, an issue that finds the states of Indiana and Kentucky with the fifth- and sixth-worst obesity rates in the country, respectively.

In addition to providing a variety of fresh vegetables, New Roots takes the initiative to educate shareholders on how they can prepare their food with easy-to-follow recipes, nutritional facts, and cooking tips. These will provide guidance to those families who have never cooked with certain types of vegetables or might be afraid to try something new.

“In one of our more recent bags, we had some eggplant in there, which isn’t something people cook with every day,” Moskowitz says. “One of our shareholders told me that they called their family member, who was very familiar with the vegetable, to pass it along to her. It was eventually returned to the shareholder as a full dish of eggplant parmesan. We’ve heard so many of these stories of people passing the vegetables to family members or neighbors, who then create these wonderful dishes that are shared among many.”

Before COVID-19, New Roots would even bring in a chef to each location to give families a demonstration on how to prepare the food. While funding for that initiative dried up during the pandemic, the organization has since partnered with a BIPOC vegan community chef, Chef YahYah, to demo at each market at least twice per season.

“I’m passionate about New Roots’ mission because I lived in a food desert myself. And at that time, there weren’t options for low-income families to get fresh, organic produce – only non-perishables and meat, which I don’t eat since I’ve been vegan for 18 years,” Chef YahYah says. “I love creating innovative dishes and recipes because most people don’t know what to do with certain produce. They’ve never had it before, so they don’t know how to prepare it. Being the Chef for New Roots, I’ve helped people who aren’t vegans enjoy creating these Vegan dishes for their families at home – which, in turn, creates healthier lifestyles for families who otherwise may not have ventured into a healthy eating lifestyle.”

With roughly 85 current shareholders, the Fresh Stop Market can provide fresh, organic produce to around 300 people every two weeks. According to Moskowitz, some even travel from as far away as Georgetown, Scottsburg, and Salem to participate.

All produce that is not accounted for by the Market’s closing time is donated to Let Us Learn, Inc., a nonprofit organization in New Albany that is increasing access to healthy food through community and family engagement. In turn, they will distribute the food to families in need, all while doing their own education on proper food preparation.

A “Growing Community” That Continues to Grow

All of the produce that is used by New Roots’ Fresh Stop Markets comes from local farmers in Oldham, Henry, and Meade counties in Kentucky. This helps the local economy while keeping food grown locally for area residents.

“We are family with our shareholders, but we are also a family with the farmers we get our produce from,” Moskowitz says. “We believe in local farming because the food just tastes better. That’s because it’s grown for taste and nutrition, not just for bounty. It is different than what you might find in a grocery store. We’re hopeful to get some Southern Indiana farmers involved in the future.”

In the meantime, New Roots has partnered with the Floyd County Library to implement a fresh food pantry. In addition to providing plant-based nutrition for those in need, New Roots will also be doubling-down on food education courses and getting more people involved in their work.

Selena McCracken, who works at the library and volunteers at New Roots, says that having fresh, clean food in this population is something incredibly important to her and the library’s visitors.

“The Fresh Stop Markets are bringing a new level of dignity for food pantries, in terms of food,” McCracken says. “Not only can we build relationships with the people who receive them, but we can help them care about their nutrition and what they eat. This is good for the library because people are looking for medicinal food, so we can focus on that angle.”

As for the future of the Fresh Stop Markets, Moskowitz has some ambitious plans, including expanding even further into Southern Indiana and surrounding counties. In the past, the organization has attempted to expand to Jeffersonville and Georgetown, but the movement failed to catch on in either location.

“We draw shareholders from outlying areas all across Southern Indiana, but sometimes we just never get the necessary buy-in around certain communities we need to sustain,” Moskowitz says. “If we continued to attract funding, plus had more support from local businesses, families, and government leaders in those area, we would love to expand our mission.”

But for now, Moskowitz is focused on letting people around Clark and Floyd counties know about New Roots’ mission and how they can help the cause.

“Our mission is three-fold: we want to use food to educate others on our organization. We want to provide nutrition education to help those receiving the food. And we want to do our part in improving the economy,” Moskowitz says. “We have the room and capacity for more to get involved. Whether that is a visit, volunteering time, or donating to help families who can’t afford to pay anything, we would appreciate whatever someone can give.”

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