Episode 6 – “Growing Community with Fresh Produce” A Conversation with Laura Flowers

Episode 6 – “Growing Community with Fresh Produce” A Conversation with Laura Flowers

In this episode, Dr. Jones talks with Laura Flowers, a part-time instructor with the College of Social Work and Farm Procurement Organizer for Fresh Stop Market Lexington, a community pop-up market focused on urban food deserts. They discuss the market, macro practice, how social work connects and, of course, eating vegetables.


Laura Flowers, MSW, is a part-time instructor for the College of Social Work, focusing on macro practice. She is especially interested in bringing attention to how structural inequalities impact marginalized populations. She is also the Farmer Organizer for Lexington’s Fresh Stop Markets, a program that aims to bring affordable, local produce into neighborhoods with high prevalence of food insecurity. She believes that growing and sharing food is the strongest root of a healthy community.


How “Fresh Stop” markets work: http://tweenslex.org/fresh-stop-markets-2/

Find Fresh Stop on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LexingtonFreshStopMarkets/

The referenced ABC 36 News story “Fighting Violence with Vegetables”


Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription and may contain errors. Please check the full audio podcast in context before quoting in print.


Dr. Jones: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the social work conversations podcast produced by the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. My name is Blake Jones. Here we explore the intersection of social work research practice and education. Our goal is to showcase the amazing people associated with our college and to give our listeners practical tools that they can use to change the world.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:23] I’m joined today by Laura Flowers. It’s good to see you again Laura.

Laura Flowers: [00:00:26] It’s so good to be here and thank you for having me.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:28] Yeah this is great. You were my student many years ago. We were talking about maybe mid-2000s. You had me for Professor and I just have to tell you that it’s such an honor to see my students come through the program. And you’re now teaching for us and you’re doing such great work out in the community it’s just I just want to let you know that how much that touches me to see that.

Laura Flowers: [00:00:56] Thank you. And now I have that same opportunity because I’ve been teaching for a few semesters now after people graduate it’s so great to see them out in the community and organizations that I have a relationship with and seeking students I’ve had and just feel like I’m a little bit a piece of their story.

Dr. Jones: [00:01:14] Yeah yeah. Makes you feel old but it makes you feel good. That’s the way I think about it.

Laura Flowers: [00:01:19] I like to think of is that my impact to social work can be more broad than just my activities that I can if I can touch students then they can go out and my impact is bigger. It’s it’s an honor.

Dr. Jones: [00:01:32] Absolutely. So you teach macro practice in our college. What’s the general focus of that class?

Laura Flowers: [00:01:39] Well my focus in that class is macro practice and so my goal is to give students a lens through which to see their practice no matter where they are on that spectrum from micro to macro to get them the lens to see the issues of issues to see that the macro causes and implications of problems all across populations especially for those who plan on practicing in the macro arena to really think about skills that they need to develop to become leaders in their field.

Dr. Jones: [00:02:15] Yeah. What drew you to social work. I think everyone has a story. What’s your story?

Laura Flowers: [00:02:21] Well, I grew up in a family that was deeply entrenched in faith and service and so I think some families help their children by saying What strengths do you have to really capitalize on. My family said what gifts can you serve people with. And so it was a constant orientation towards service and of course, social work just led out of that.

Dr. Jones: [00:02:47] Yeah yeah those two are very connected.

Laura Flowers: [00:02:50] Yeah.

Dr. Jones: [00:02:51] Well I’m here to talk with you today about a really interesting program that you’re involved in that has to do with food.

Laura Flowers: [00:02:59] Yes.

Dr. Jones: [00:03:00] And I must say you’re the first person I’ve interviewed about a topic like this I love food and I’m trying to eat more healthy food. But you’re involved in this group called Fresh Stop Markets and tell us a little bit about that program. What do you do?

Laura Flowers: [00:03:16] Yeah so I think we all love food. And so I think it’s a great place for us to start on so many issues. But the program is a cooperative food buying initiative within food desert neighborhoods. So this initiative that people put in their money and then I contact farmers and I work with about 15 farmers that I get local produce from I bring all that together on a on an evening and a pop up market and people come and pick up their vegetables.

Dr. Jones: [00:03:52] So what is a food desert? I’ve heard that term thrown around. What does that mean exactly?

Laura Flowers: [00:03:58] So a food desert is when people don’t have access to a grocery store in their neighborhood. And what we see often in food deserts is there’s higher rates of obesity and diseases that correlate with obesity. Also we see a lot of processed foods in convenience stores and corner markets where people are getting their primary sources of nutrition from corner markets that sell chips and candy.

Dr. Jones: [00:04:27] Yeah I have to kind of hang my head at this point because I was the other day I went to an event and I was coming driving back home in about an hour from where I live. And I was hungry I hadn’t eaten all afternoon and there was really nothing around so I stopped at one of these little quick mart places and I was really I was trying to find some fruit or something healthy. And I literally could not find anything healthy to eat. So I got some beef jerky or something I don’t remember what it was but it was it was not real healthy and I thought you know as you’re saying a lot of people get their food from these kinds of places just these quick mart.

Laura Flowers: [00:05:10] And not just their and their food on the way home from someplace but their breakfasts and their dinners and when especially when we think about children in these neighborhoods who have even less opportunity to make the choices for themselves about what they eat and having such limited access and such high exposure to processed foods is a big deal in their development. So hopefully by bringing some food good food local organic food we’re helping educate the community about what options are available locally and giving them access at a reasonable price.

Dr. Jones: [00:05:50] When I was preparing for this podcast I asked you to send me some background information and you sent me a website and some other things and also video and what I noticed in that video is people having fun and lots of smiles lots of laughing around food. You know this is kind of a farmer’s market type of atmosphere and I noticed in the PR materials for your group they talked about community and having fun and I just thought that was so interesting that really struck me that you know people were in it looked like maybe an inner city and they were having fun picking out fresh vegetables and laughing. And I saw people of all different races together and it was just this really cool kind of peaceful scene. I wonder if you could say something about the intent of having community around food.

Laura Flowers: [00:06:50] Yes and so one of the goals of this program is for it to be community supported it’s a co-op and so it’s people coming together and the beautiful thing about this is that so many different people have come together. It is on a sliding scale and so that difference in income has been able to make it possible. So lower incomes pay a price and people with higher incomes pay a price and so we get this great diversity and because it’s something so joyful as picking up fresh produce and having friendly volunteers there. It’s a space where people can come together who wouldn’t usually be in the same room together or who wouldn’t be interested even in the same issues together. But it’s a space where those people can come together and really build relationships and build networks within their community.

Laura Flowers: [00:07:42] Now that piece that you alluded to it was a news piece that was as a result of some violence in my neighborhood in the East and and it was really interesting during that interview process many of our volunteers and people from the neighborhood did not want to be on TV. And so the initiative was represented by me on that news program and I was I was disheartened by that because all of the efforts we do to build that community to make it to empower the community to make the choices for themselves. It made me look like I was the leader of that which was not how we want it to be which is how so many organizations have come into that neighborhood and tried to do initiatives and that we really wanted this to be community run community supported. And so in actuality, we get a lot of that people just get together and have a good time.

Dr. Jones: [00:08:46] Yeah that’s great. I grew up in a family of eight. I think I probably told you when I had you as a student and some of my best memories were of sitting around a table and eating with my family and you know I had lots of cousins and they were we just they we would just have these big dinners you know that my mom would fix and you know if somebody was if someone died there would be food if there was a wedding if there was some you know we always just always enjoyed food together and I think that’s such an integral part of community.

Laura Flowers: [00:09:21] Yes. Yeah. And not just here. You know that’s global and that’s something inherent in our humanness that says we get together around food and that’s not unique to one race or one neighborhood. It’s across humanity. And so I see food not just as a determinant of our social issues but as a solution where we can really come together at a table if we can have that same joyfulness and eat together and share food together then we may be able to think of solutions to more pressing topics where people might not usually come together to talk about.

Dr. Jones: [00:10:05] I wonder if we could talk about maybe a personal story that you’re familiar with where someone has been changed by your program is there somebody that you can think of that that really has been changed in some way by their connection with your program.

Laura Flowers: [00:10:22] Yeah. Well during the markets we get feedback each week about people who are just eating healthier and noticing the impacts of that we’ve had people say they’ve lost weight and we’re even just simple stories of say oh I tried that eggplant and I’d never had a plant before and I invited my neighbor over and that’s what we really like to hear is when people cook and then broaden their community networks. But the thing I think I’ve noticed the most that’s most meaningful to me is when I see people who have been marginalized or in the margins of our society and they come to this place and this place sees their asset and tries to develop that. So we see people who are beaten down in so many different ways and they’ve come to volunteer and we say hey you are a leader you have you are leading in this organization and you are leading in your community and just holding up that mirror for them of saying yeah you are special to this community and you have gifts and I think that goes a long way in so many aspects in that person’s life. Beyond just eating better is that way that people have assets to give to their community and rather than being a program where people just take a resource that they can share resources with each other and develop those.

Dr. Jones: [00:11:56] I want to make the connection here with social work and I think you’ve kind of talked about it some here but I want us to be very explicit about this. If someone is listening who is not a social worker and this is called social work conversations podcast. They may be thinking you know what does fresh food have to do with social work?

Laura Flowers: [00:12:16] I would love to make that connection between food and social work. When you dig in to social issues and you keep thinking about the whys of each of these social issues I think we really get down to our basic needs of food and shelter. We think of housing and food and air quality even as the very base level of the things that we need as people all the way down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We see that basement and I feel like if we can make impacts at those basement levels then those will have positive outcomes at those at the end stages of people’s issues and so I think of food as kind of a great way to start the conversation because we get people together who wouldn’t usually come together. Everybody needs food and everybody can get together around food. Food access is one of our seeds to a healthy community so when a healthy community grows, starting with something as simple as food, it’s really the root of the issue. So many solutions that we might be able to find.

Dr. Jones: [00:13:21] Yeah. You know I often tell my therapy clients I always ask them what they eat what their diet is. And I see this again and again that food fuels mood. And there’s there’s this connection you know between if someone’s depressed and they’re just eating junk all day lots of sugary high fat things of course they’re going to feel more depressed. So I think starting at at that very basic thing of how do you get nutrition is really really important. Has that kind of played out for you you always struck me you know when I had you as a student you always struck me as very healthy and I say that in a really holistic kind of way but a healthy woman.

Laura Flowers: [00:14:09] Well I try and I feel like personally as I confront my own mental health then try to be as healthy as I can in my mental health food being a method of how I work on that for myself. But I see food not just when we think about mental health issues but food as a justice issue and we think about discrepancies between intellect or weight or chronic diseases. So even when we think about the producers of food and their exposure to toxins so when we think about farmers and migrant workers and the justice for them. So many of our food policies and our consumption choices impact those people. So when we think about it from a social justice perspective it’s not just from the consumer side but the producer side.

Dr. Jones: [00:15:04] That’s great. You teach macro practice and I think there are a lot of things going on in the world right now that are depressing and sad and kind of overwhelming. At least that’s the way I feel about some of the issues going on in the world. I wonder how you keep from despairing. You know sometimes as a social worker I think we despair that you know are we making any progress on these issues that we’re working about. They seem so intractable and kind of overwhelming. Can you talk a little bit about how your maybe your faith or your emphasis on self-care kind of feeds your your hope.

Laura Flowers: [00:15:47] Sure and so it is really easy to get bogged down in big issues and especially for someone who empathizes with other people very intensely. If I look too broadly issues is really easy for me to get frustrated and depressed in one way I think to combat that is to really scale down our focus so even though I think of myself as a macro oriented person I think if we can just start looking at just a neighborhood are just a small group of friends. If we can keep those as our focus. And so we don’t get so overwhelmed with the world’s problems. That’s the way that I like to and I think as I see my career progress thinking I think 10 years ago I’d say I want to be a policy analyst and I want to do these big scale things. And the older I get and the more I know about myself and my capacity I think I want to be a good friend. And I want to be a good neighbor to my community and I want to do something good with the people around me. And I have to keep that as my center and I get so overwhelmed by the things I’d like to do on a national or even global scale.

Dr. Jones: [00:17:14] Yeah, you’ve done some international traveling haven’t you.

Laura Flowers: [00:17:18] Yeah. I used to live in Kenya and Zimbabwe and that was definitely part of my childhood that impacted my view of your view of the world.

Dr. Jones: [00:17:30] One thing I know about social workers myself included is that we have maybe struggles that we’ve had in our lives that have brought us to social work and I think those can really be helpful to us as we do our work. They can be dangerous sometimes if we don’t have good boundaries when we do our work. But I wonder for you is there been a struggle in your life that’s brought you to social work and how does you know gardening healthy living. How does that play into kind of your healing?

Laura Flowers: [00:18:10] Yeah that’s a really good question because I think so often we do have those things that impact our lives that are the impetus for us to be involved and have compassion for others who might be experiencing something similar. And I think we can either be buried under those things or we can use them as leverage – leverage those things to make impacts or do preventative work for other people. So when we’re thinking about food and I’ve actually been involved in quite a few food initiatives Fresh Stop Markets just being one of them in our in my community. But growing food is a is a way that I experience some of that healing from mental health issues so when I think about my depression how I greatly impacts that and I’m pretty careful about that. But also even the research supports it that just being putting your hands in dirt just having those microbes in your body from dirt can be such a healing thing for your body your body as well as your mind. And so I try to spend as much time as I can in my garden and I’d like to say I grow a lot of my own food. But it’s really just that exercise in gardening rather than a productive endeavor for me.

Dr. Jones: [00:19:34] And you have children of your own now.

Laura Flowers: [00:19:37] I do. have two sons who are six and seven. They’re four months apart which is confusing. We adopted through the foster care program and had two very busy boys and I let parenting then take up a big bandwidth of my time and resources. So, at this point in my career I am focused on that and putting together some part time work where on the issues in my community that I feel are most important.

Dr. Jones: [00:20:07] I have to ask you this question: Do your sons like vegetables do they eat vegetables?

Laura Flowers: [00:20:14] Oh it’s actually really embarrassing when they are two and three and they were eating Beet Risotto I thought I am really doing a great job. And then when they turned four and five and all they want to eat is wheat and cheese. It’s it’s it’s tough. We get a lot of vegetables in as smoothies and that’s my that’s my resource. It is. It is hard but we try.

Dr. Jones: [00:20:42] Yeah. The good old smoothie is always a staple

Laura Flowers: [00:20:45] Yeah. Kale smoothie for breakfast.

Dr. Jones: [00:20:48] It’s great. Well what is ahead for this program what do you dream about what do you think about this for the program that you’re involved in?

Laura Flowers: [00:20:59] Yeah. So we would love to expand this model. This model was started in Louisville actually under an organization called “New Roots” and they have really successfully gotten 13 small neighborhoods on board and they have built markets in each of those neighborhoods. And as we think about expanding the program in Lexington because this is community empowerment and community engagement we wait for a community to say we want that before we go in and say here’s what you need. So we are waiting for neighborhoods or Faith leaders ore anywhere a group of people comes together to say we want that choice in our community and then we would love to expand.

Dr. Jones: [00:21:48] And so if somebody wanted to get involved with your organization how would they find you.

Laura Flowers: [00:21:54] Find us through Facebook is a good option we have Facebook page “Fresh Stop Market Lexington” is what you’d want to search and we can always use volunteers especially on market days where we need help just hauling boxes and setting up tables and smiling people and maybe even talking about vegetables. Any time you have to spare to come and help at a market we would love to see you.

Dr. Jones: [00:22:16] Good – And we’ll put some links up on our podcast page as well to get people connected with you.

Laura Flowers: [00:22:21] Thank you.

Dr. Jones: [00:22:24] We want to thank you for coming on to the podcast today. This is. It’s been great to catch up with you and to learn about this great work that you’re doing and I’m really proud of you. And just this work that you do and I think it’s so important. So thanks for. Thanks for spending some time with me.

Laura Flowers: [00:22:40] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Jones: [00:22:44] You’ve been listening to the social work conversations podcast. Thanks for joining us. And now let’s move this conversation into action.

Announcer: [00:22:52] This production is made possible by the support of the University of Kentucky College of Social Work interim Dean Ann Vail and all the faculty and staff who support researching contemporary social problems and prepare students for the social work profession. Hosted by Dr. Blake Jones produced by Jason Johnston. With thanks to our webmaster Jordan Johnson. Music by Billy McLaughlin. To find out more about the UK College of Social Work and this podcast visit socialwork.uky.edu/podcast