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Big Impact from a Small Kitchen

Posted by Elanor Starmer, Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator in Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017
Executive Chef Jason Johnson explaining his preschool menu to Administrator Starmer
Executive Chef Jason Johnson explains his preschool menu to Administrator Starmer. Most of the children he cooks for have not had a lot of experience with fruits and veggies, but Chef Jason says that each week their plates come back cleaner. Photo credit: Heather Hartley, USDA

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ohio with Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini and stopped by Southside Roots Café, Market and Kitchen for lunch. The restaurant makes delicious food from locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, but what really sets it apart is how it charges customers for that food.

Southside Roots Café uses a pay-what-you-can approach that allows everyone to eat nutritious, delicious food, regardless of their income. Housed in a former school building owned and operated by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, the café and an adjacent fresh food market provide fresh, affordable, nutritious food to the local community. Weekly community meals, along with a kids’ meal program for students at a nearby development center and visitors to the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus, round out the food bank’s creative approach to serving families and children in need.

Executive Chef Jason Johnson – whose enthusiasm and easygoing manner make everyone feel at home – earned an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Kentucky with the intention of becoming a physician. But after graduation, Jason changed his mind and signed up for culinary arts school. Within five minutes of the first class, he knew that he was right where he was supposed to be.

Jason loves his job with Southside Roots Café, where one of his responsibilities is feeding the children enrolled in three neighborhood daycare programs and introducing them to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables that they may not have eaten before. At first, most of the food he prepared came back to the kitchen untouched, but as kids experience new dishes and foods, the plates get cleaner each week.

The Mid-Ohio Food Bank is charting the Café and Market’s impact on community health—something my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is researching at the national level.  Many participants have agreed to have their baseline health information taken and indicators tracked. Healthcare providers are watching closely to find out how the addition of fruits and vegetables affects health and well-being.

The café and food bank are working to advance local and regional food systems, while also increasing access to healthy food.  I was inspired by the community partners and the innovative team’s approach to making sure that everyone can afford a good meal.

Professor Jill Clark (left) from Ohio State University, Mid-Ohio Food Bank CEO Matt Habash (center) and Administrator Starmer (right), are joined by Vice President Marilyn Tomasi and Ohio Rural Development State Director Tony Logan for a tour of the food bank warehouse
Professor Jill Clark (left) from Ohio State University, Mid-Ohio Food Bank CEO Matt Habash (center) and Administrator Starmer (right), are joined by Vice President Marilyn Tomasi and Ohio Rural Development State Director Tony Logan for a tour of the food bank warehouse. Photo credit: Heather Hartley, USDA
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Comments

Carla Bowman
May 10, 2016

Wonderful Story!! Great idea. Thank you Jason!!

Annette DeJean
May 10, 2016

That is so awesome, kids need healthy meals, fruits and veggies, thank you Jason.

Kerry Callender
May 14, 2016

Inspiring!