Fresh Stops bring fresh, local food to Louisville neighborhoods.

Fresh Stops bring fresh, local food to Louisville neighborhoods. | Courtesy of New Roots

Fresh Stops are “magical,” but there’s room for improvement, according to University of Kentucky graduate research assistant Heather Hyden.

Hyden interviewed 18 farmers who participate in Fresh Stops as part of her graduate thesis. The purpose was to get a better look at how Fresh Stops impact the farming community and ways to improve communication and operations.

Fresh Stops are a “disruptive and innovative” way to provide greater access to fresh produce and create “authentic community development,” Hyden said. However, both farmers and the liaisons who work with them to get produce for the Fresh Stops noted there are still logistics and communication breakdowns.

Fresh Stops, such as the ones Louisville nonprofit New Roots runs, bring fresh produce grown in Kentucky to neighborhoods where residents have limited access to healthy food options. In Louisville, those neighborhoods include Shawnee, Old Louisville, Parkland, Russell and Smoketown.

“We are helping to build and create new markets for farmers,” said Cassia Herron, a New Roots farmer liaison.

The majority of farmers Hyden interviewed categorized themselves as farmers with limited resources; some were minorities. Most of their farming income comes from farmers markets, CSAs and sales directly to groceries or restaurants, Hyden said. Only about 5 percent of their sales came from Fresh Stops.

In 2015, New Roots’ Fresh Stops in Louisville generated $90,000 in revenue for farmers, according to Hyden’s findings. And farmers like Fresh Stops because they are paid when they hand over the food.

However, Hyden also found that most didn’t have the time, money or additional labor to grow their production capacity even though they feel there is a market for their food. And at least four of the farmers she spoke to held second jobs to help pay the bills.

They saw farming more as a calling, Hyden said. “I had this farmer tell me, ‘Farming is this call to serve the community.’ ”

Farmers also told Hyden that they compost the majority of produce deemed substandard for market, getting rid of food that could possibly find a market at Fresh Stops.

Toward the end of a presentation she made at The Table, a pay-what-you-can, farm-to-table restaurant in Portland, Hyden broke down concerns both farmers and farmer liaisons have about Fresh Stops.

It can be difficult to convince farmers to sell in neighborhoods where Fresh Stops operate, liaisons said, and they aren’t always upfront about whether they can fill the necessary orders. As for the farmers, they complained about talking to multiple people rather than having a designated contact and would like more advanced notice of how much produce is needed.

Both farmers and liaisons said they need to better coordinate food pick-ups and sync up the Fresh Stop with farmer’s schedules.

New Roots executive director Karyn Moskowitz said the nonprofit already is considering a solution to those problems.

New Roots may start hosting Fresh Stops in multiple neighborhoods on a given day to make it easier for farmers coming to town to sell their produce. The nonprofit also is talking to farmers about collaborating; if one can’t make it to a Fresh Stop, another farmer nearby would deliver their produce to the Fresh Stop, she said.

Other recommendations included creating a centralized ordering system; facilitating more talks about what Fresh Stops are doing right and doing wrong; letting farmers know how important they are to Fresh Stops’ success; hiring a designated farmer organizer; and attracting more farmers to Fresh Stops.

“Fresh Stops are a proven infrastructure,” Hyden said, but “it has to be supported.”