Indiana University Southeast’s second annual Diversity Week kicked off January 30, 2017 with a presentation addressing food justice as faculty, students, staff, and members of the community attended the University Center lunchtime talk given by Karyn Moskowitz, Executive Director of New Roots, Inc. Moskowitz, a dynamic speaker, told the story of her own evolution as an organizer, and provided background about the issues affecting access to fresh food in the Kentuckiana/Indiucky area that surrounds the university.
Moskowitz’s non-profit, whose motto is, “fresh food is a basic human right,” runs 14 Fresh Stop Markets in New Albany and Jeffersonville, Ind., and Louisville, Lexington, and Brandenburg, Ky. The markets make available shares of fresh organic produce, grass-fed ground beef, and eggs to communities that are defined as “food deserts.”
You should be able to walk to get your food…in order to be food secure, but it’s just not possible any more because we have had a flight of grocery stores from the community over the last few generations.”
Moskowitz’s interest in activism surrounding food justice began sixteen years ago, when she founded a farmers market in the small town of Orleans, Ind. That market, voted one of the top ten in the country, Moskowitz said, caused her to become “a serial non-profit creator.” She worked for Community Farm Alliance, a Kentucky state-wide farmer’s advocacy association, to organize farmers markets in West Louisville, an urban food desert. A food desert is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as “a low-income tract with at least 500 people, or 33 percent of the population, living more than 1 mile (urban areas) or more than 10 miles (rural areas) from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store.”
“You should be able to walk to get your food…in order to be food secure, but it’s just not possible any more because we have had a flight of grocery stores from the community over the last few generations,” Moskowitz said. She mentioned recent Kroger supermarket closings in the Old Louisville neighborhood and in Jeffersonville, Ind. as examples of that flight.
Moskowitz tried for two years to organize the farmers market in West Louisville, but, “I couldn’t get farmers to come,” she said, contrasting that predicament with the more well-to-do East Louisville where she claimed there were 27 farmers markets.
While all the farmers…were selling beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables in the East End of town, they weren’t coming to the West End of town.”
“For those of you who haven’t lived, prayed or played in West Louisville, it’s predominantly an African-American community, limited resource families, 80,000 people, two grocery stores. The average on the East End is one grocery store per 6,000 people.” Moskowitz related the two states’ poor health rankings in part to lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables. According to the United Health Foundation, in 2016 Indiana was ranked as the 39th unhealthiest state (out of 50), and Kentucky was ranked as the 45th unhealthiest state. While Kentucky’s rank has remained largely unchanged since 1990, Indiana has dropped 10 points during the same period.
Even worse than the states’ overall low health, she explained that in Kentucky, the average lifespan was 16 years less in the West End compared to the wealthier East End.
Redressing the lack of access to fresh food with the farmers market model hasn’t been successful because families in poorer neighborhoods can’t afford retail prices. “Someone who’s making $20,000 a year can’t afford to pay $4 per pound for tomatoes….So, while all the farmers…were selling beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables in the East End of town, they weren’t coming to the West End of town.”
In 2009, Moskowitz learned about the Fresh Stop Market model used by City Fresh in Cleveland, where families are charged according to an income-based sliding scale. “The idea is that families who are making more money can put more money into the pot, and families who are making less money put in less money, and everybody’s getting the same thing. As you can understand, this is unheard of in a grocery store….That’s the idea behind the Fresh Stop.”
“We look for partners in the community who share our passion for food access and promise to be a site for us during the growing season. We don’t feel like it’s right for us to come into a neighborhood and tell the neighborhood what to do or how to do it or that we’re going to do it for you.”
The community decides in advance what food they want the farmers to grow for them all summer. Families pool their money ahead of time.
“And then we have the money in the bank….When the farmers get there we pay them on the spot for that food. So they no longer have to shoulder all the risk of showing up in the neighborhood of families that face limited resources….The biggest barrier, that is risk, has been overcome.”
families who are making more money can put more money into the pot, and families who are making less money put in less money, and everybody’s getting the same thing.”
The system allows New Roots to purchase vegetables at wholesale prices, a difference between about $4 per pound for tomatoes retail and $1.50 to $2.00 per pound wholesale, Moskowitz said. A vegetable “cheerleader” volunteer at each market explains each vegetable and offers shareholders tips on how to prepare them. Markets also include a chef preparing dishes using most of the items in that week’s share, recipes, reusable bags, and a newsletter. The chef-prepared dishes are free of charge.
Moskowitz explained that the Fresh Stop Markets also help fight stereotypes. “There’s the stereotype always that people [there] don’t want to make healthy choices. Like it’s about the choice, and it’s not about structural racism and institutional racism….If you lived five miles away from a grocery store and you were living on $60 a month in food stamps, how could you make a healthy choice?”
Another stereotype Moskowitz fights concerns wealthier neighborhoods such as the East End. “Not everyone in the East End is rich,” she pointed out, adding that such neighborhoods could still be food deserts for families needing to travel several miles to the grocery store and not having cars to get there.
After Moskowitz presented, she took questions and comments.
At New Roots, Moskowitz is assisted by many volunteers and two full-time staffers: Mary Montgomery, who holds the title of “Uber Farmer Liaison,” and Sarah Dugan, Administrative Coordinator. New Roots maintains active recipe and community blogs, and a facebook page.
FRESH STOP MARKET SLIDESHOW