Nonprofit Spotlight: Urban Roots |

Nonprofit Spotlight: Urban Roots

Plumas Bank sponsors this content

Weaving through a crowd of ready clients, I follow the rest of the Urban Roots staff into the small but mighty St. Francis of Assisi Food Pantry. Director Cindy Becher welcomes our arrival.

“Everyone, this is Urban Roots. The produce we’ve been giving out is from their farm. Today, they’re going to help us pass it out and get a sense of where it’s going.”

Our Farm Director, Dave Hoffman, thanks the Pantry for having us. “We are so excited about this partnership. The vegetables you’re sharing today started as seeds planted at our original Fourth Street farm by our students. When we moved to the Urban Teaching Farm by Renown Regional Hospital, they were transplanted by our teen campers.

From start to finish, these vegetables in your pantry were loved and cared for by our staff, our volunteers, but most importantly, the children in our community.” As he tells the story, his face lights up, his gestures become grandiose, and passion seemingly radiates from every part of his body. This is his lifeblood.

The doors open and I feel like I can’t pass out the wide variety of fresh produce fast enough. Cindy stands beside me, greeting and welcoming each and every client. I pause for a moment to watch her persuade an older gentleman to swap his microwavable meal for an eggplant. He looks at her skeptically, admitting he’s never prepared one, let alone tried one. She smiles.

“Weren’t you just saying how delicious the cauliflower I recommended last week was? Well, I promise you I have an eggplant recipe that is just as good, if not better.” She retrieves a nicely laminated recipe for him to keep.

“Here. It’s one of my favorites. It’s full of so many good nutrients for you. They’re all listed on the back, along with their benefits.” He smiles and puts the foreign looking vegetable in his basket, going on his way. I return my attention to our table. A child holds out his hands and smiles shyly as I pass him a bag of vegetables from our farm.

His mom nods appreciatively as they walk out with a basket full of healthy food for the week. As I watch them go, I think how those vegetables will provide today’s Pantry guests with a week’s worth of healthy meals. Just a few months ago, they were merely seeds – seeds that were planted by Urban Roots’ students.

When those seeds sprouted, the students took on the responsibility of tending and caring for the flowering vegetables. As the sprouts grew and transformed before the students’ eyes, so did they.

Through the process of learning how to grow their own food and prepare it into healthy meals, Urban Roots educators simultaneously teach these students science, math, English, and technical skills through the garden while explaining where the produce ultimately ends up: on the table of a food-insecure individual. Through these lessons, kids not only learn how to take care of their bodies and brains, but their community as well.

I think about the farm this all happens on. What was merely an abandoned dirt lot less than 18 months ago is now a flourishing space for learning and providing, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our team, volunteers and community partners.

The hands that pull these vegetables from the ground look just like the hands receiving them at St. Francis of Assisi. Now, their meals might share familiarity too. The recipients are not only gaining access to nutritious food, but they also are learning how to eat healthy as well as the benefits, all with the support of their community.

I am so inspired by the incredible community partnerships that made today’s donation of produce possible. Through support from the State of Nevada, Fund for Healthy Nevada, the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, in partnership with Renown Health, Community Health Alliance, Northern Nevada HOPES, six community food pantries, and Urban Roots, embarked on a two-year pilot program called “Prescription Pantry.”

When participating hospitals determine a patient is food insecure, the patient is provided a “prescription” to access food at one of the participating community food pantries. Often, the produce provided to patients comes from the Urban Teaching Farm, and has been cultivated by our community’s children.

In addition to the 405+ pounds of fresh produce we’ve donated to Prescription Pantry partners, Urban Roots provides seasonal day-camps, homeschool programs, and school garden integration for Washoe County School District. Since our inception, we have served nearly 9,000 students and 1,600 community members in northern Nevada.

As we leave the pantry, I am left with one last question: If we can have this large of an impact in such a short time, what will we accomplish in the years coming?

This story was provided by Taylor Caldwell, a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who works as  Communications Officer for Urban Roots. Plumas Bank in Reno sponsors this content.