By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Sep 07, 2018 at 11:01 AM

Sunday, Aug. 26 marked the third Sunday of the baseball season during which Brewers’ fans were able to reap the benefits of Roots for the Home Team, a new program which brings healthful, fresh salads to Miller Park. 

The salads, which come in varieties like the Brew Crew Caprese; the Go! Go! Groundwork! Green Team Salad; the Kaylett Southwest; and M.Y. Fresco, are available for $10 each (or $12 with chicken) at the "Salads" food cart located behind section 119 on the Field Level of the park during Sunday afternoon games through the end of the season.

But the salads themselves are even more delicious when you consider the story behind them.

From Minneapolis to Milwaukee

Roots for the Home Team began as a grassroots initiative in 2012 at Target Field in Minneapolis, under the direction of dietician, founder and executive director Sue Moores.

"Moores is a registered dietician who grew disgruntled with the way nutrition education was handled, particularly with regard to minority students," notes Bonnie Halvorsen, founding executive director of the Institute for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition and the Learn Earn Grow program. "And as the program met with success in Minneapolis it became her dream to have a program like it in every ballpark in the U.S."

In fact, the Milwaukee program is the first offshoot of the successful program, which has received numerous accolades for its innovative approach in knitting together youth leadership, urban agriculture and entrepreneurism.

The Milwaukee chapter is a collaboration between two area urban agricultural initiatives: Learn Earn Grow and Groundwork Milwaukee’s Young Farmers with support from the Brewers Community Foundation. Both programs approach urban agriculture in a slightly different way.

Learn Earn Grow is an urban agriculture program which introduces high school students from MPS to higher education through a six-week summer program focusing on urban farming, food production and composting.

Meanwhile, Young Farmers teaches organic gardening practices to youth in the Harambee, Metcalfe Park and Sherman Park neighborhoods in an effort to build inter-generational communities around neighborhood-based food systems.

Recipes for the salads are created by the students in collaboration with area chef-mentors, including Delaware North Executive Chef Seth Vanderlaan, Dave Swanson of Braise restaurant, Caitlin Cullen of The Tandem and Ishmael Simmons of Chick N Dude.

"I was so excited to be asked to be a chef mentor for the program," says Vanderlaan. "We spent some time at the alumni house at UWM early on in the season. We listened to the students talk about their backgrounds and then helped them to develop recipes that would really work at Miller Park.

"We made a vinaigrette with them and talked about why it actually tastes good. We also showed them how cutting the produce into specific sizes really makes a difference in terms It was great to talk with the kids and really bring some understanding to the way that we approach food and create flavor."

Pictured (left to right): Jeff Levering, Devin from Groundwork, Brian Anderson,
Shay from Groundwork, Seth Vanderlaan, Bill Schroeder, Bonnie Halvorsen

It takes a village

But even the most delicious salads require logistical plans to get them from farm to table.

A partnership with Braise RSA allows fresh produce grown by both programs to be safely stored and delivered to Miller Park, while enabling supplementation of their harvest with additional produce grown by area Wisconsin farms. It’s work Chef Dave Swanson says is a step in the right direction.

"The main focus of our RSA is getting great ingredients from farms to places that can use them," he says. "So we’re really happy to make this work. We’re really happy to support the program itself. It’s also been really exciting to be a part of conversations about getting more local food into Miller Park."

The initiative also receives valuable support from Vanderlaan and his Miller Park team, who prepare ingredients like locally raised chicken, grains, vegetables and dressings on site in preparation for games.

"It’s definitely a lot of work. But we’re always trying to find unique ways to bring fresh, health conscious items to Miller Park," says Vanderlaan. "And this is done in the best possible way. We’re helping students from the community, purchasing local produce and offering attendees delicious food. So there are a ton of benefits."

Meanwhile, during games, the kiosk is worked by students from the Learn Earn Grow and Groundworks programs who sample, serve and sell salads during Brewers games. The students are compensated $10 an hour for their time, plus tips, offering them both valuable work experience and income.

In addition to providing new healthy options at the ballpark, Roots for the Home Team benefits both Learn Earn Grow and Groundworks in a variety of ways. It provides a new revenue stream for produce grown by community youth. Those same students also benefit from summer work experiences that provide them a variety of benefits including culinary skills, customer service and sales and marketing experience, education in food safety and offering them an impressive dose of confidence, courage a taste of the benefits of entrepreneurism.

"I’d love to see this program continue in the future," notes Vanderlaan. "It’s a great model in terms of letting student see the all aspects of a culinary business, from the growing of the vegetables to really seeing the financial end of things, being able to sell the raw materials, prepare the salads and then marketing them to customers."

Making the farm-to-table connection

"The gardening piece is sometimes tough for them, and they’re not yet making the connections with what they’re doing," notes Halvorsen. "When the kids are out on the micro-farms, they’re not shy about expressing their complaints: ‘It’s buggy.’ or ‘I’m dirty.’

"But then you take them to Miller Park and they’re watching people buying these $10 salads, and they hear customers expressing how grateful they are for healthy options, it’s a different story. Suddenly, things come full circle for them and they really begin to understand the monetary value behind the work they’ve been doing."

Halvorsen notes that students really enjoy the experience of working at the baseball games, and they often share what they’ve learned with their team leaders.

"It was a good way to interact with new people and learn how to communicate with people better," noted a student named Lynett. "I just love everything about Roots!"

"I had my first introduction to being an entrepreneur, which was so cool," notes another student named Alex. "By the time I finished the day, I was inspired to created my own gardens in the future … I’m very happy I was a part of the experience and the Learn Earn Grow program."

By the end of their inaugural baseball season, Roots for the Home Team will have served over 600 salads over the course of eight games. Halvorsen says she hopes the program will be able to staff the salad kiosk for both Saturday and Sunday games in 2019.

For a full schedule of upcoming games featuring Roots for the Home Team, visit rootsforthehometeam.org You can also follow the Milwaukee initiative on Facebook.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.