By Lisa Golden Schroeder
The Boys of Summer are winding up another breezy season of baseball. And the kids of the Roots for the Home Team™ program are reluctantly laying down their garden trowels and putting their veggie plots to bed for a winter’s nap. I took a few minutes last week, before the final appearance of the Garden Goodies salad cart at Target Field, to talk to Roots founder Sue Moores again about her take on this second season. I asked her if the energy and commitment to partner with youth gardens is still strong, after the initial excitement of hanging out at the Minnesota Twins ballpark has waned. Her answer? A resounding yes, on every level of what she’s hoped would continue to develop for the dedicated kids involved.
In just their second summer they’ve experienced impressive changes—and been part of making those improvements as enthusiastic leaders. Moores considers herself a facilitator for the kids, establishing the parameters of what they need to do each weekend at the food cart, but keeping the dialogue wide open so the kids feel confident to make suggestions and create their own take on a bolder, more fun presence at the ballpark. She says it’s a symbiotic relationship between the kids, the gardens, and the entrepreneurial aspect of working at the cart—the kids have a voice and are learning to collaborate as team members. They became strong faces for the Roots brand, moving out into the crowd to sample salads to passing fans and choreographing playful shuffle dances to entice people to stop and buy. This season, Just BARE® put product behind its financial support, so fans could opt for a generous topping of roasted, chopped chicken on their salads—and about 40% of fans did just that (including me—I had chicken on a “Beet the Heat” salad that featured julienned raw garden beets. If you’ve never eaten raw beets, give it a try—crunchy, earthy, and delicious with a tart vinaigrette). The tender chicken stirred into the crisp veggie salad was really satisfying—I happily skipped my default brat dribbling with mustard and sauerkraut.
This year the kids really amped up their presence, manning the cart for weekend home game two-fers, serving up food to double the fans. Many were repeat customers, curious to see what was new. A much higher percentage of the salad ingredients were grown by the youth gardens this year—and Delaware North, the caterer for Target Field, was impressed by the commercial quality of all the produce they worked with over the course of the season. Watermelon radishes, Romano beans, ground cherries, edamame, red kohlrabi…the list of unique items flowing from the gardens all summer was boundless. And the kids started offering little tidbits of unusual veggies for tasting, with fans encouraging their own kids to take just a bite. A rainbow of variety we don’t often serve up at our own tables.
Moores feels bittersweet about the end of the season. “I’ll miss the time I spend with these kids, as I’ve grown and learned so much from them. The garden programs find being part of Roots a worthwhile adjunct to the work they do and have expressed an appetite for more. We may need more manpower, too. I want to learn about more youth garden programs in our community going forward.”
A new carrot Moores is dangling for next season is the chance to be a student intern, an opportunity for a handful of lucky gardeners to be an integral part of the structure and running of the program. With the Minnesota Twins hosting the All-Star game in 2014, it will be a great platform for recognizing the benefits of healthy kids and communities. With some of the gardeners already starring in a PSA that flashed on the Jumbotron during games this summer, and Twins player Scott Diamond keen to do more with Roots and its youth, I think they’re ready for prime time!