Monday, October 22, 2012

Food Justice Across Cultures

Don Tyler hard at work at the Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop

Last week my friend asked me if I wanted to meet an Iraqi family that has recently settled in Louisville. This family literally had to flee for their lives, and are now safely settled in Louisville as refugees, part of the Kentucky Refugee Ministry program that settles families such as this.

My friend and her daughter have been tutoring one of the three children and helping the family work through the maze of life here in the USA. The mother of the family (let's call them the Jafarris) told my friend that in just two years here in Kentucky, she has gained a considerable amount of weight, and her children are eating a lot of sugar and salty snacks, and are refusing to eat most vegetables. Since arriving in Louisville, they have had to participate in the "system" in order to afford to eat and exist: SNAP Benefits, WIC, Medicaid, etc. The irony of this, as many of us know, is that these federal subsidies often encourage unhealthy eating and life styles. For example, WIC subsidies pay for sugary cereals, conventional cheese, sweet juices, etc. Only $10 of WIC subsidies can be used to purchase fresh produce. Refugees see their fellow Louisvillians buying up the snacks and soft drinks with their SNAP Benefits, and the cheap, easy calories might even become a signpost to these families that they are finally becoming American. Diet-related illnesses, unfortunately, often follow, and then the doctors they see, not knowing or asking the family their food stories, will often prescribe meds, then more sickness, more know the story.

We brought the Jafarris over a produce basket share from the Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop. The week's share was collard greens, kale, pumpkin, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, lettuce greens, etc.

One could of course make the assumption that this family was unfamiliar with most of this local produce. However, my instincts and years on the ground have taught me that opening up the discussion to try and understand each person's individual food story is the very first step toward economic justice and equality. Never should we ever make the assumption that we know more than another adult just because we might have more education, more life experience, live in a better neighborhood, and G-d forbid, have a lighter skin tone. But this is exactly what I see and hear all over the City as I talk about our work at New Roots: "We just have to educate THEM." "THEY don't really know how or want to eat produce, we have to teach them," etc. However, time and time again, I learn that if I simply ask questions of people and listen, I am always happy to learn that, actually, the tables are usually turned. I walk away learning more than they did.

But back to my story. As we slowly started to lift the produce out of the boxes, I asked Mrs. Jafarri if she knew what the vegetable was, or if not, I tried to compare it to some similar vegetable she might have seen in the Middle East (it helps that I have traveled to the Middle East and I am familiar with the cuisine). For example:

"Do you know what this is?" (Me, holding up some good 'ole southern collard greens).
"Yes, we make dolmehs with them. We stuff them with rice and herbs." (Ms. Jafarri).
"Oh, yes dolmehs! So you don't only use grape leaves for dolmeh's?" (Me).
"No, we use these also." (Ms. Jafarri).

Some of the vegetables were not that familiar to the family. For example, acorn squash. My friend took this squash home, and cooked up some awesome squash soup and brought it back over. She also engaged the children in cutting up some sweet potatoes for fries. Smiling faces all around.

HA! Stuffed collard greens! Suddenly it dawned on me that the refugee population are in fact, creative and important participants in rebuilding our local food system and cuisine. A whole world opened up to me. Suddenly I started to think about all the possibilities for us here in Louisville, and the cross-cultural dialogue that can happen—that must happen—around refugees and our local food system. I have been connected to Catholic Charities Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program for many years. It is a great program that helps refugees who might have been farming in their native lands, learn how to farm in Kentucky, and either make a living out of their work, or provide food for their families and friends. However, what I am thinking about is reaching more of the families who did not farm back home, who don't have the time to farm and/or seek out farmers' markets (that are often way too expensive for them, unfortunately), and want to eat local.

I would love to create a Fresh Stop that includes refugees and other families, bringing groups of people together who would normally never cross paths, to collectively raise our food and health IQ. Anyone interested?

Stuffed Collard Dolmehs with Grassfed Beef, Rice and Peas
Ingredients (20-30 Grape Leaves):
30-40 Collard Green Leaves—you will need extra leaves to line the bottom of the pot
1 cup rice
1 medium onion
1/2 cup yellow split peas (lapeh)
1/3 cup lemon juice or vinegar
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1 lb of ground grass-fed beef
½ cup to 1 cup fresh or dry (or combination); these include parsley, cilantro, green onions, mint and savory leaves, and a small amount of tarragon.
salt, pepper
turmeric (your preference; I added 1 TBS)
olive oil

Chop up the onion small and fry it in a pan with a little olive oil. Add the meat once the onion is golden in color and fry the meat. Add about half a cup of water and allow the meat to cook. You will add salt, pepper, and turmeric to the meat as well. Allow the meat to cook for at least 20. Once the meat is cooked set it aside and allow it to cool.
Heat up water in a pot and boil the yellow split peas for approximately 25 minutes. Then drain and set them aside to cool.
Heat up water in a pot and bring the rice to a boil. Drain the rice and set aside to cool.
Clean any fresh herbs and chop them up slightly using a food processor (or a knife). If using any dry herbs make sure to use less than you would if using fresh herbs. Mix all these ingredients together in a bowl, add salt and pepper for taste.

Carefully cut away stem from collard leaves. Boil them in water for a few seconds so that they soft. Lift out with tongs and lay out flat. Take the leaves one at a time and lay them on a surface or cutting board. Take some of the mixture and place it on the leaf and then begin wrapping the leaf up like a little package, folding in first the top of the greens, then the sides, then rolling them up till they are somewhat rectangular.

Add oil to the pot you plan on using to cook the Dolmeh in. Take a few leaves that aren’t wrapped and place them on the bottom of the pot. Take all the prepared Dolmeh’s and place them on the bottom of the pot leaving no spaces.Take the 1/3 cup of lemon juice (or vinegar) and add the sugar to it. Add about a cup of water to the juice/sugar and stir everything together. Once the sugar has dissolved pour the contents all over the Dolmeh’s in the pot.

Place a plate (or something else that’s heavy) over the Dolmeh’s to make sure they don’t move around. Turn the burner on to low heat and place the lid on top of the pot. Allow the Stuffed Grape Leaves to cook for 30-45 minutes. Don’t let them burn! Enjoy warm, with a side of tahini, salad, etc.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Matzo Ball Gumbo in Action

Ms. French and young friend making homemade ice cream at the
Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop Karamu Party
Matzo Ball Gumbo in Action
Excerpted from and inspired by the book of the same name
by Marcie Cohen Ferris
In honor of Black History Month and the
Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop

[On February 9th, the Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop held its first annual Black History Month Celebration or Karamu—Swahili for Pot Luck Celebration. We had two Kentucky African-American farmers speak, two beautiful songs and a poem shared, food memories and a new movie featuring the work of Fresh Stop and Youth Achievers Leaders. Lots of great food was eaten, old friends greeted, and new friends made. This celebration inspired me to collect some stories of the shared history of Jewish and African-American cooks in the latter part of the 20th Century in the southern part of the United States. Enjoy!]

Matzo Ball Gumbo in Action

During the colonial era a pivotal relationship emerged between Jewish and African American women in home and synagogue kitchens as they exchanged recipes for collard greens and matzo balls. They shared an unlikely alliance as outsiders—Jews because of their religion and blacks because of their race. The kitchen became “free zone” where African American and Jewish women bonded as they prepared meals for the family. Within this space, an important blend of southern and Jewish cuisine emerged.

Atlanta Brisket with a secret ingredient, Coca-Cola, lox and grits, sweet potato kugel, collard greens with cracklins” (made from chicken fat, or schmaltz, of course), Sabbath fried chicken, Rosh Hoshanah “hoppin’ john.”

More than food passed back and forth between Jewish and African American families as black cooks and caterers baked sweet potato pies and cornbread dressing for Jewish employers and went home after the holiday meals and bar mitzvahs with leftovers.

Chopped liver, blintzes, stuffed cabbage, sponge cake, potato pancakes, tzimmes, kreplach, kishke, and gefilte fish.

A fifth-generation Jewish New Orleanian, Catherine Kahn traces her family history to Paris, Alsace and Lorraine.

“I saw my first bagel at college,” says Catherine Kahn. My family pretended they didn’t know anything about Jewish food. To eat Jewish was to look Jewish. By avoiding traditional Jewish foods and instead embracing the cuisine of New Orleans uptown white society, we affirmed our allegiances. We did not deny our Jewish heritage. Rather, we were “quietly Jewish. In the 1930s and 1940s when fear of anti-Semitism was palpable to all Jews, we kept a low profile where being Jewish was concerned.”

Cold lemon stew fish, Sister Sadie’s Honey Cake, creole cream cheese with boiled potatoes and green onions, Kosher Mardi Gras king cakes, Matzo Ball Gumbo.

Shirley Bateman-Barra was a well-known figure in the uptown New Orleans Jewish world, an African-American caterer.

“I learned my trade from my grandmother Lucy Ater. Together we prepared food for Jewish holiday dinners, bar mitzvahs, weddings, temple banquets, and society functions for more than 60 years. Grandma Lucy was born in 1893 in Berwick, Louisiana and overcame poverty and limited education to become one of the leading caterers in the New Orleans Jewish community from the 1940s through the 1970s. One benefit of working for Jewish families and learning to cook Jewish was the assurance of future jobs within the community. The way it happened was that Grandma Lucy cooked for the Rittenbergs, one of New Orleans most prominent Jewish families for many years. At this death, Joseph Rittenberg left a bequest to Grandma that allowed her to open her own catering business. I learned from Jewish people how to handle food and what to do with food. Most of my cooking experience is from Jewish people. I think they loved me and I loved them. After studying to be a dietician at the State University of New Orleans, I took over Grandmother’s catering business. Jewish people, they like to eat! They like to eat more than they like to drink.”

Ponchatoula-grown chocolate-dipped strawberries, miniature cheesecakes, salmon and egg-filled appetizers.

Vinie Williams, an African American woman born in Ville Platte, Louisiana, began to work for the Jewish family, Myrtle and Bernard Zoller in the 1950s and stayed until their daughter Anne Zoller Kiefer married in 1967.

Says Anne Zoller Kiefer:

 “At holiday time, Mama and Vinie prepared Jewish dishes. They could cook for a crowd. My entire life of wonderful family eating experiences was solidly nurtured from my mother’s country Jewish recipes to those of Vinie Williams. Together they created the perfect mix of Jewish and spicy creole delicacies like Dirty Matzo dressing for Passover.”

“The Jewish grandmammas—they just died so fast. And the recipes went home with the maid, the bartender and the chauffeur.”

Caper sauce fish, matzo schalet, MawMaw Evelyn’s fig preserves, okra with tomato and corn, stuffed veal.

Mary Jordan, an African-American caterer, worked with Atlanta’s German Jewish community from the 1940s to the 1960s. Through contacts Mary made with Jewish families she began to cater Jewish functions and parties. Jordan’s son Windsor now runs the catering firm.

“I remember the downtown Jewish grocery store owners who lived near mama. Me and my brothers, Vernon and Warren, played with the eastern European children in the neighborhood.

“We first met Jewish people in their small neighborhood grocery stores. The storeowners would let us black customers buy on credit and pay them later. You could go in there and I don’t care what you went in there for, he always had it

“Mama knew the rabbis well. They advised me on the rules of keeping kosher. We developed a taste in our house for corned beef and knishes. The Jewish families always requested soul food-styled dishes because, in the South, they were going both ways because they were so influenced by southern cooking. And you know how bland Jewish cooking can get after a while. They wanted some soul. And it was “Jewish Soul cooking.” You added a little bit there to make it taste better. I mean, how many times can you eat matzo ball soup? Mama was the original black Jewish mother. Before she died, she told me, “When I go, I want God to come and cook.”

Scrap cake and candy from downtown Jewish bakeries to make “sad” cakes and bread puddings. Eggs, chicken feet and necks from Southern Egg Company, chicken necks stuffed with bread, onions, green peppers and spices.

Lamar White, food manager for Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Atlanta, began work there at age thirteen when he helped his grandfather. By incorporating African American flavors and cooking methods Lamar created a southern and kosher culinary style distinct to Atlanta.

“My food is so popular, the synagogue sells carry out trays of my brisket, meatloaf, barbequed chicken. People ask me so what makes this kosher food different from food eaten in an Orthodox synagogue in New York? Only way I can tell you the reason why it is southern is because there is nobody like me in those areas. I’m not in there cooking. I guess you can call me, Lamar White the secret ingredient. My knowing African American cooking traditions and combining that with the knowledge of kosher, created a uniquely southern Jewish culinary experience.”

Crispy baked chicken, cornmeal-fried fish fillets, Pesach fried green tomatoes, red soup, Lamb spare ribs, Brunswick Stew, Kosher pickles.

Lisa Cohen lives in suburban Atlanta, and shares her household responsibilities with Fannie Bailey, an African American cook and housekeeper who has worked for the Cohen family for more than thirty years.

“She makes the best chicken soup. It is so clear. It’s like the Gulf of Mexico. You can see straight through it right to the bottom of the pot.”

“It’s through food that you keep your culture alive—okra and yams—those were brought over from Africa in seed pods in Fannie’s ancestors braids. We both want our children and grandchildren to have some kind of cultural background. Food is really how you weave it in. People can take you out of your native land, but they can’t take away your food and your habits and your culture.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Youth Achievers/New Roots “New You” for a New Year Project

Youth Food Justice Leader LaJuan Odom giving
“Karyn’s Hummus” with fresh veggie dippers a try
At the end of 2011, New Roots and the Chestnut Street YMCA Youth Achievers decided to join our strengths and create the very first Youth Food Justice Leadership Training in Louisville. New Roots developed a Food Justice Leadership Curriculum in 2011, but this eight-week, 16 hour class was geared towards adults. Our challenge was to come up with a training for children from K-7 that would reconnect the children to their food culture and history, and therefore encourage a return to cooking and eating “from scratch,” i.e., with fresh local fruits and vegetables. The idea is to instill pride in the children that they are descended from men and women who had (and still have) an abundance of knowledge about growing food “out of the ground,” and that without their ancestor’s foresight to bring seeds across the Middle Passage to the Americas, southern cooking’s main ingredients, i.e., okra, collards, yams, etc., would never have arrived on these shores.
In November 2011, New Roots organizers Blain Snipstal and Karyn Moskowitz met with the Youth Achievers volunteer leaders Kellye Cunningham, Ria Chandler, and Jamie Keith, and their children, to create this new partnership and ensure that it would be community-inspired and led. The five of them invited the parents of the Youth Achievers to come to an open forum in December 2011, to find out what issues the families were passionate about. The parents were very interested in talking about their children’s and their health, and how to start to lose weight. The families are from all zip codes around Kentuckiana, so the issue of food justice didn’t come up as much as it does in areas of Louisville where many people are having challenges accessing fresh food. Parents were very interested, however, in the injustices they see in the JCPS school food, that is, that some schools have better food than others, that the menus sent home don’t always reflect what is actually served, and that the food, in general, is not healthy. They felt that JCPS school food is exacerbating the problems of childhood obesity and going against what some of the parents were trying to do at home, namely move away from processed foods into a fresh food-based diet. At the end of the session, Blain gave out fresh bok choy to any family that wanted some, and there was great excitement in the air. The feedback we got from the parents was very positive. Many asked the Youth Achievers leaders when New Roots was coming back.
After many weeks of organizing, and expanding the planning group to include some New Roots board members, Shawnee Fresh Stop leaders, and other volunteers, including actor/director and JCPS teacher Jou Jou Papailler, we came up with a plan. Saturday, January 14th was designated “New Roots Day” at the YMCA Youth Achievers session. The program was two hours long, and included an inspiring introduction by Ms. Ria Chandler, and a presentation on African-American food history by Blain Snipstal. In small-group sessions led by Mr. Papallier, Ms. Myrna Brame, Ms. Mary Montgomery, Mr. Nathaniel Spencer, and Mr. Snipstal, the children talked about their own personal food histories. The small-group sessions were followed by a one-hour “round robin” where the children and their parents rotated through 5 tables of fresh snack demonstrations led by four volunteers, Doris Bailey Spencer and New Roots board members, Ali Mathews, Karyn Moskowitz and Kathey Schickli. The idea was to offer snacks that children can either make on their own, or with the help of their parents, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. Snacks were chosen that “mimic” the sensations of eating fast food, including creamy, savory and sweet all in one meal, such as hummus dip with fresh carrot, pea and cucumber dippers, orange smiley faces with fresh pineapple chunks, lettuce wraps filled with “luscious fruit salad,” celery boats with raisin sailors, and “instant” banana pudding made from fresh bananas, applesauce and yogurt. The children loved the snacks! Thanks to the creativity and initiative of Kathey Schickli, the children were each sent home with a kid-friendly cookbook, which included recipes for all the snacks prepared that day. And much appreciation to Ms. Lynn Johnson, the Director of the Black and Youth Achievers, and the YMCA for purchasing the beautiful fresh ingredients that went into the snacks. The day ended with a rousing speech by Ms. Myrna Brame, reminding the children of their connection to the produce that grows on the farms in our region, and asking them to visit their elders and bring back their stories to share at our next gathering.
55 children, 10 parents, and 10 New Roots leaders, for a total of 75 people, attended the event. The children were sent home with instructions to gather information, including recipes, photos, drawings, etc., about their own personal food culture and history. New Roots will reconvene with Youth Achievers on February 25, 2012. The “New You” group would like to keep meeting throughout the school year, hopefully once a month. The parents will be invited to join in the second annual Food Justice Leaders Class, starting in April, at Redeemer Lutheran Church. In June, when the Shawnee Fresh Stop kicks off, we will invite the children and the parents to join the organizing team so they will learn “the ropes” about Fresh Stops. In August, when the children return to the Youth Achievers program, we hope to teach the children community- organizing skills so they can see if the neighborhood residents surrounding the YMCA would be interested in launching a special, pilot Youth Achievers Fresh Stop before the end of the 2012 growing season.
At the beginning of 2012, New Roots is excited and hopeful about the prospects of developing Youth Food Justice leaders. We invite anyone in the community with an interest in helping our youth to reconnect with their personal, family and community food history and culture to join us in this innovative adventure.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

New Roots in NYC

The Uri L'Tzedek Summer Fellowship Program Participants with Author Karyn Moskowitz in NYC

The following article is reprinted from Uri L'Tzedek's August Newsletter. I met one of the founders, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, at Hazon's Jewish Food Conference in December in Sonoma County, California. When I knew I was going to be near NYC after dropping my daughter Cicada off at Eden Village Camp in late June, I contacted them to see if the interns would be interested in hearing about our food justice work here in Kentucky. I am so glad I went. It is inspiring to me to see young people make the choice to spend part of their summer organizing for social justice in NYC, to make a change in our food system. We wish them well as they go back to school!

You can find out more about Uri L'Tzedek's work at:

My name is Tamar Schneck and I am currently participating in the Uri L'Tzedek Summer Fellowship Program. I have spent the past five weeks with eight peers working, learning, and growing. Throughout the fellowship, we have heard presentations on social justice and the nonprofit world, strategized for the Tav HaYosher program, and worked on our group projects, but most importantly we have developed friendships, processed, reflected and learned from various experiences together.

One of the experiences that truly influenced me was a presentation by guest speaker Karyn Moskowitz, who spent her life travelling and living in various cities throughout the United States, until finally settling down in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville, according to Karyn, is split roughly into two sections: one wealthy and one poor. The impoverished area has some of the highest obesity rates in America and is a food desert, an area in which fresh and/or healthy food is difficult to obtain. Karyn noticed the disparity in food resources and the unhealthy lifestyle and was determined to change it. She began a non-profit organization called New Roots, which is dedicated to teaching healthy eating and cooking and providing fresh food to these neighborhoods, in conjunction with local churches, through the Fresh Stop Project. Karyn identified a problem and spent her resources, energy and time devoted to resolving it. She is an inspiration to me and my fellow peers in the program. She spoke to us about how, in the beginning, she was rejected from grants, and thus went on welfare to support and establish New Roots. In the beginning, churches were uninterested in cooperating and the community was suspicious of her. Despite these initial hurdles New Roots has grown tremendously.

Karyn's dedication, hope and persistence are characteristics that I have learned are vital to anyone who wants to create change in the world. Speakers like her have helped me internalize, understand and power through the experiences that we've had as part of the fellowship. It has also helped me appreciate the positive reactions I hear from others and accomplishments that we have achieved.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fresh Stop Video by Juliana Stricklen

New Root’s Fresh Stop Project

What does it take to rebuild a just and thriving local food system in Kentucky, one that helps ensure that everyone, regardless of race, income, or neighborhood of residence has access to good, clean, fair, affordable food? This question has been the passion of New Roots since its formation in 2009, and has led to our mission to create a just and thriving food system in the Louisville metro area.

New Roots is a small, grassroots 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization. I founded it with the help of my young daughter Cicada Hoyt, and much love and support from other community members. Today, this small nonprofit is catching the attention of people all over the world for its “can-do” attitude and effective work in connecting low-income residents of Louisville’s “food deserts” (West Louisville, Newburg, and Old Louisville, for now) with affordable fresh food from local and regional farmers on a shoestring budget. New Roots accomplishes this through its innovative Fresh Stop Projects, food justice leadership development classes, and healthy eating “boot camps.”

The formation of New Roots grew out of a frustration with the lack of farmers’ markets in Louisville’s food deserts. Louisville presently has 27 farmers’ markets, yet very few exist in the neighborhoods that need them most. Farmers Markets in the food deserts have been impossible to sustain. Farmers have the perception that they will make more money in high-income neighborhood farmers’ markets, and often fear for their safety in “high crime areas.” In addition, farmers’ markets pricing, even if Food Stamps/EBT are accepted, is often too high for low-income families. Grocery store chains share these perceptions. This phenomenon has led to a disparity in health. Residents of these neighborhoods experience higher rates of diet-related illnesses than people who live outside of them.

About seven years ago, an alternative vision for food justice—The Fresh Stop Project— was brewing in Cleveland, Ohio with City Fresh. Fresh Stops are similar to CSAs, Community-Supported Agriculture projects. A typical farmer-run CSA works by asking members to pay a large fee up front, before the Kentucky growing season (average of about $600 in our region). In turn, the members receive weekly baskets full of fresh, seasonal produce from the farm. However, low-income families cannot usually afford a large up front fee.

Fresh Stops run either every week or every week, and payment is given only one week ahead of time, so the upfront commitment is doable. Some Fresh Stops run on a sliding scale—with low income food stamp users paying $12 per share and higher income paying $25—so that neighbors are subsidizing good food for their neighbors, and in turn the collective buying power allows the group to purchase much more than they could have otherwise.

Fresh Stops are run and operated by community and church leaders and are 100% volunteer-powered and not-for-profit. This past May, interested neighborhood leaders were recruited and invited to spend seven weeks (one hour class per week) participating in New Root’s food justice leadership development class to explore a Shawnee Neighborhood Fresh Stop. We engaged in often difficult conversations about food justice, including the role race plays in why low-income residents of color have limited options for fresh food access, yet are inundated with fast food, and what we call, “The Color of the Local Food System,” i.e., the fact that our nation’s food system is controlled by mostly wealthy Caucasians. Twenty-five leaders visited Courtney farms, and listened to owner Mary Courtney talk about what it takes for a small family farmer to survive in this economy, allowing a deep connection to emerge between growers and eaters. We talked about the effects of agricultural chemicals on our health and the health of workers, and the role of federal policy in the rise of high-fructose corn syrup flavored processed foods, and corn in the diets of factory-farmed animals. At the end of the seven weeks, the leaders organized themselves into teams to plan the new Fresh Stop.

The Fresh Stop uses a cooperative buying model to buy fresh local food at wholesale prices from a variety of farmers who understand our mission and are happy to participate, sometimes donating extras. During the winter, neighborhood leaders meet with farmers to ask them to grow specific produce that meets the needs of the community and negotiating wholesale prices. This same Farmer Liaison Team continues to work with the farmers throughout the season, checking on what is in season and current pricing, and placing orders. A week before the Fresh Stop, Fresh Stop Coordinators and the Outreach Team remind families to pay for their shares. All money is collected, orders are tallied, farmers are called, and orders are placed. One Fresh Stop can have four farmers participating in one event.

New Roots has to date chosen to partner with churches and community centers for Fresh Stop locations. We have been very lucky to partner with Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Old Louisville (now in its fourth season and operating independently with some shared produce buying), the Wesley House in Newburg, and the Redeemer Lutheran Church and the Shawnee Arts and Cultural Center in West Louisville.

On the day of the Fresh Stop, farmers drop off their produce at the site. Volunteers immediately get to the task of counting to figure out how many of each item a family can receive. Tables are set up and items are displayed. Volunteers are stationed behind the produce tables to answer questions on preparation and storage of produce and to offer other tips.

When you show up at a Fresh Stop, members of your community greet you. Our Fresh Stop Coordinators Team checks off your name to verify that you have paid ahead of time or have your EBT/Food Stamp card swiped, and then you are given a reusable bag to go down a line of tables full of beautiful local produce. Signs on the table tell members how many of each item they can choose, giving the Fresh Stop the feel of a farmers’ market. In Shawnee we are lucky to have Chef Derrick Jackson there every week demonstrating how to prepare the items in the week’s share. A newsletter is available with recipes and stories on people’s relationship to food. Then, members are asked if they would like to share in the next Fresh Stop’s bounty and money is collected. Any extras are sold on a separate table and money is rolled back into the Fresh Stop. Volunteers clean up and the site rests, until the next Fresh Stop. The Shawnee Fresh Stop leadership team meets biweekly to share best practices with each other and continually improve the process, do neighborhood canvassing, and introduce new food justice concepts to the group.

A Fresh Stop has a lot of “moving parts.” To see it in action, it looks like everything happens as if by magic, but actually, it has taken a group of dedicated volunteer leaders organized into teams to make it work. To date, over 300 families have participated in the Shawnee Fresh Stop, an average of 50 per week in Old Louisville, and 25 families at the Wesley House.

New Roots is presently looking for new board members to help us meet this great need in the community, with terms to begin in mid-September. We also need your donation to create a network of Fresh Stops all over the City. Please call 502-509- 6770 or email Visit our Facebook site at and our website at

The author shows her appreciation of Kentucky-grown Romaine Lettuce

Friday, June 3, 2011

Food Apartheid

In 2007, I left southern Indiana to take a job with Community Farm Alliance (CFA) in Louisville, Kentucky. At that time, CFA had an office in the Portland Neighborhood of West Louisville, which had opened in 2003. My job description was “business development organizer.” My responsibilities included incubating two different local food distribution businesses to “rebuild the local food system."

Rebuilding a food system? But didn’t we already have a food system? After all, how could we live without a food system when food is the most important item we purchase, necessary for life, the fuel for everything we do?

Turns out we do have a food system, but that it is severely broken. And it seems to be broken on both ends. That is, on the supply side, conventional agriculture has led to the creation of food that tastes like Styrofoam and sometimes has the equivalent nutrition of that substance. On the demand side, people in the know, with money and access, are clamoring for local food, with small family farmers scrambling to find market channels and meet the need. However, not everyone has equal access to this new clean, fair, local food. This Jewish mama, who lives for the knowledge that everyone I know and love is eating well, was shocked to find out that my job description included attempting to rebuild a food system in a city that had created a “food desert,” where a large percentage of its residents had limited access to fresh, affordable food. The majority of the residents who live in these neighborhoods of Louisville are African-American and low-income families.

Low-income people of color in our American cities are being denied access to fresh food for very complex reasons that will surface over the next few blogs. As a result, they suffer disproportionately. Their neighborhoods have limited options for purchasing fresh, healthy food, and as a result, the residents, especially the children, are getting serious diet-related illnesses due to limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Back in 2007, I had never heard of the term “food desert.” I had certainly experienced a rural food desert first hand. But I have lived in many US and foreign cities, including Queens, New York, Paris, France, San Francisco, California, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington where farmer’s markets and small produce stores seemed to be everywhere. How could this wealthy American city—home to the Kentucky Derby, Bourbon and Southern Belles—have allowed a food desert to happen?

I decided that the best way for me and my daughter to understand this “food apartheid” was to move into the neighborhood ourselves, which we did in April of 2007. This turned out to be an important move on our part, as we got to live the problem others often just talk about. What I lived with and saw in West Louisville that year, and the three years since I left the neighborhood to move to another one that is more food blessed, has turned my life upside down. Since that April day, I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t spent a portion of it trying to work with residents, farmers, and organizers to figure out solutions to this problem.

Our house in West Louisville that first year became the neighborhood hub, as the local children soon found out we were a house full of fresh cooked food, lively conversation and a friendly dog. But finding that food to cook was another story. In the entire neighborhood of nearly 65,000 people, there were only two major grocery stores—both Kroger’s—a grocery store chain headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a Sav-A-Lot. In West Louisville there is an average of only 1 full service grocer per 25,000 residents, compared to Jefferson County wide ratio of 1 per every 12,500 residents. According to the last census, about 51,000 of West Louisville’s 64,741 inhabitants are African American, or 79%. By census tract, the average median household income is $20,900, about half of the Jefferson County-wide median of $39,457. In some parts of the neighborhood, the median household income drops below $10,000, less than one-fourth of the county median.

The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness reports in its Preliminary Food Desert Analysis that nearly 100,000 Louisville citizens live in ‘food desert’ communities characterized by extremely low-access to fresh food.  Yet, low-income West Louisville is home to the highest density of fast food restaurants in the country.  In 2007, as a result of poor access to healthy food, only 13% of African American men, and 23% of African American women in West Louisville were consuming the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, compared with 24% of white men, and 34% of white women in the same area. The lack of access to fresh foods, and the ease of access to foods with lesser nutritional value, has led to extreme health disparities. In 2007, an astounding 67% of African American women and 74% of African American men living in West Louisville were obese.
Children from low-income communities of color suffer disproportionately as family’s loss knowledge about produce origin, nutritious meal preparation, and budget planning for healthy diets. As a result, Kentucky has grown the third highest childhood obesity rate in the country at 37.1% of children.

More later on the road my daughter and I traveled with the neighborhoods to meet these challenges.