Sue Moores has dovetailed her career as a dietitian with a passion for healthful food, working since 2012 with inner-city kids and enriching neighborhoods with a social enterprise called Roots for the Home Team.
Moores, a nutritionist for Kowalski’s, a key partner, was inspired by inner-city gardens, often sponsored by local nonprofits and others that employed volunteer or-minimum-wage teens in part-time summer work.
Moores now runs a $270,000-plus revenue operation that starts with about 30 kids during the growing season. They learn to plant, tend and harvest, as well as cook and create savory salads sold through Kowalski’s and on weekends at Minnesota Twins home games.
On Jan. 11 at Target Field, eight teams of youths from garden-program partners Pillsbury United/Waite House, Urban Roots, Appetite For Change and Green Garden Bakery, will join local chefs including Ann Ahmed of Lat14 and Lemon Grass Thai; Lachelle Cunningham of the Good Acre and Chelle’s Kitchen and Nathan Sartain of the St. Paul College culinary program, to develop the 2020 salad lineup.
The Twins and Delaware North, which operates the concessions and dining services at Target Field, “mean everything,” Moores said. “They have opened up their door to these youth and allowed them to step forward. Radio broadcasters Dan Gladden and Cory Provus take time every weekend game and they invite the teens up to the radio booth to deliver a salad to each of them and they talk. It resonates with Derek Falvey, the president of baseball operations for the Twins.
“The food arrives before every game from Co-op Partners, and Delaware North chefs prepare the salads with the youth who serve and sell the salads at Saturday and Sunday home games. It’s lovely.”
This season’s addition to the Twins food lineup include Bollywood Smash Salad (roasted cauliflower and chickpeas tossed with sorghum, mint, raisins, and a bok choy slaw topped with sunflower seeds); and the Northside Fresh Salad (black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, serrano pepper and currants topped with crispy wontons and pepitas in an avocado lime dressing).
Most of the vegetables are grown in Minneapolis and St. Paul gardens.
This isn’t just about food. In fact, most of the teenagers, who are disproportionately kids of color, immigrants and kids who hail from low-income families, don’t sign up because they plan to be chefs. But they get interested in nutrition, sales and meeting customers.
“Food is a great door-opener,” Moores said. “And Roots gives them a chance to do things and work and meet people they otherwise wouldn’t, including members of the Twins organization and a lot of Twins fans.”
My own observation is that a lot of fans, in addition to putting down $10 or so for a zesty, nutritious, filling salad, engage with these kids, who generate nearly $25,000 in annual Twins game sales from 22 home games.
Moores, who was paid $60,000 in 2018 for 50-hour work weeks, according to Roots’ most recent tax return, has deepened the Roots experience for all stakeholders through a relationship with the University of Minnesota and its School of Social Work’s department of youth studies. It has developed a Roots-youth curriculum around nutrition, entrepreneurship and career planning, and an annual evaluation.
“It starts with growing vegetables and being able to nourish yourself,” Moores added. “They wanted more. It’s now more about nourishing their futures. The salad is the gateway. They learn about opportunity and futures.”
I last wrote about Roots in 2014, the month of the July All-Star Game at Target Field. I interviewed some hardworking teens at a Northside community garden. They also were introducing some grade-schoolers to often-sweaty garden labor of weeding and watering.
Mela Nguyen, a Minneapolis Henry High School student, and fellow Henry classmates Sergio Cerredondo and Ronisha Tolbert were leaders that summer, overseeing gardens at St. Olaf Lutheran Church and Nellie Stone Johnson School that produced 5,000-plus pounds of tomatoes, raspberries, cabbage, peppers and cucumbers.
It fed many at farmers markets, restaurants, Kowalski’s, day-care programs, at a neighborhood nursing home, as well as at Twins games.
The Tic Tac Taco Salad and Kickin’ Quinoa Salad were all-stars that summer.
I’m happy to see that the Roots team, backed by generous supporters who donated $254,000 last year, continues to employ great teens, win over customers and further the urban “farm-to-fork’’movement.