Here's our founder Wen-Jay Ying with Wayne Coyne, lead singer of the psychedelic band The Flaming Lips. It was always a dream of hers to dance on stage with the band and that dream came true years ago. While backstage, the two discussed what Ying's life plans and the musician gave her a piece of advice that would forever change her life - focus on your local communities.
Wen-Jay became interested in fresh food access after reading an article about the decline of supermarkets in New York City, which forced many New Yorkers to purchase packaged foods at bodegas and eventually returning to those same bodegas for over the counter drugs to treat ailments from unhealthy eating. She became an Americorp VISTA at Just Food, a food justice non-profit, and built resources for Community Supported Agriculture (insert link to a blog post on CSA) groups. Addicted to the local food movement, she joined Red Jacket Orchards where she started the first fruit only CSA in NYC, worked at their farmers stands, and facilitated a partnership with Six Point Craft Ales to create a plum-infused beer. After her time at Red Jacket Orchards, she spent a season working at the Union Square Farmers Market for Hot Bread Kitchen.
Between her time behind a computer building resources for CSAs, long hours in the sun lifting fruit boxes and setting up market tables, helping The Piggery distribute their products through meat CSAs, and continuously missing the pick up window to get her vegetables through a neighborhood CSA, Ying had a vision to build a strong connection between New Yorkers and local farmers that accommodated both ends of the food chain through a CSA inspired model. She wanted to create a type of market that was more aligned with the busy life of New Yorkers which focused on community, while also absorbing much of the logistical work for farmers so they could spend more time on the field. She felt drawn to the community that typically formed around food, and in fact never felt at home in NYC until she joined a CSA. This alternative way to shop for food that she wanted to create would be a solution to supermarkets with picked through, sad-looking foods and gourmet markets with price points higher than the quality of produce being offered; a new type of market should be fun, social, educational, and bountiful of fresh produce – creating a vibrant soil to city experience where the people that grow or produce your food were familiar faces as opposed to the anonymity that transcends the current food system, as well as connecting us to each other, ourselves, our city and land, culture, culinary traditions, and our food.
At this time in 2011, the local food movement was slowly growing in NYC and there were very few jobs in the field. Advised by her mom (mom's always know best), she decided to create her own dream job and see where it went. Two months later, with a rental car and no business training (but lots of ideas and passion), she started Local Roots NYC. She was lucky enough to spend a few years in NYC deeply involved in the Do It Yourself underground music scene playing in bands and booking shows and she applied those experiences to starting a business.
In its first year, Local Roots NYC focused on supper clubs, youth education, and an alternative CSA model which offered three 3-month CSA seasons and different food options as opposed to the traditional CSA which had a 6 month commitment was limited to only vegetables. Ying felt strongly that all of our local farmers that are responsible stewards of our land should receive the loyal support of CSA memberships, regardless of the type of product they offered.
From five CSA locations in 2011 to 22 in 2017, we now proudly support over 15 local, small farms and nearly 20 small-batch NYC producers. Our female operated staff distributes over 60,000 lbs of produce a year and connects approximately 1,000 households with freshly harvested, sustainably grown, local food. Local Roots NYC has transformed from an alternative CSA to a local food system entirely unique in itself. Our markets now offer options to pay in seasonal or weekly increments, and even one-off purchases. We are a culture and lifestyle. Our members view us as an extension of their own personal values and a trustworthy source for all things food or sustainability related. Local Roots NYC is a symbol of high quality, transparency, and authenticity to their community.
The future of Local Roots NYC is greatly influenced by the needs of New Yorkers and producers, and grounded in principles of integrity, innovation, and passion. We want to ensure we don’t take short cuts and that we avoid buzzwords and fads. To make a true impact on our food system and New York City, we make decisions for the future and not just for today.
If we had to state our mission statement in one sentence, it would be that exploring, cooking, and eating local food has made our lives happier and we hope to share this joy with others. Given the chance to speak about our work in more than a sentence, we could go on and on about the culture we are creating through local food, the ways our work nourish us as individuals and how others have said it's done the same for them, why we work incredibly hard so you know who your farmer is, the empowerment that is found in cooking for yourself, why local agriculture and regional economies are so darn important ...Visit one of our markets, come hang out at an event, grab a tea with us or simply send an email. We love making new friends and talking about local food.