Rooting for kids

Sue Moores is changing kids’ ideas about fresh food — and themselves — with her unique nonprofit organization.

Sue Moores
Sue Moores, founder of Roots for the Home Team. Photo by Tracy Walsh

It can be fun to look back on a person’s life and see how each step led to another, and how the intersections of interests and opportunities might have created the life that person is leading now.

For Sue Moores, age 59, there have been recurring themes — a love of baseball, an appreciation for delicious food, a desire to give back to the community and a concern about the national viewpoint on nutrition, especially among young people.

Mix all those themes together, toss gently and voila! — you arrive at a life’s purpose that’s as vibrant and satisfying as a freshly made garden salad.

As it turns out, Moores knows a thing or two about the art of salad making — and also about community-building, youth development, entrepreneurship and volunteerism.

As the founder and executive director of nonprofit Roots for the Home Team, she works with Twin Cities’ youth in local community gardens, helping them dream up tasty salad recipes for the fresh produce they grow.

The young gardener-chefs become budding entrepreneurs when they sell those delicious salads — with names like Mediterranean East Side, Kickin’ It Filipino, Lakota Wojapi Manoomin and Purple Rain — at Minnesota Twins’ games at Target Field.

Last year, kids in the program grew 580 pounds of organic vegetables and sold 700 salads.

Kids presenting their salads
Photo by Tracy Walsh

Finding her calling

How did Moores — whose day job includes working with Kowalski’s Markets as a nutritionist — come to be heading up the nation’s only youth entrepreneurial salad business in a major sports venue?

It’s the brainchild of her lived experience and her observations of our local landscape, especially as it relates to food.

“When you tell someone a food is ‘healthy,’ most people, especially young people, assume that it tastes horrible,” she said. “But fresh fruits and vegetables really do taste delicious, if you’ll give them a chance.”

As Moores was growing increasingly concerned about this issue, a seemingly unrelated bit of local news popped up: The Minnesota Twins were going to be moving to a new home in the yet-to-be-built Target Field. (They played their first game there in 2010.)

Her two thoughts — getting young people interested in trying fresh, nutritious food at the same time our baseball team was getting a fresh start in a new location — came together in Moores’ mind, and Roots for the Home Team was born.

Now all Moores had to do was establish a brand-new nonprofit, arrange partnerships with youth-focused community gardens, find corporate sponsors and convince the Twins to welcome her project at Target Field.

If that seems like an absurdly difficult and dauntingly complex task — too much for a mere mortal — then you haven’t met Sue Moores, who has enough energy and optimism to field a nine-person team all on her own.

Sue Moores
Photo by Tracy Walsh

Persistence pays off

Moores began reaching out to members of the Twins’ organization — and reaching, and reaching and reaching.

“I was an unknown entity, pitching a never-been-done-before idea,” she said.

Finally, in May 2012, an agreement was in place, and Roots youth sold their first salads during a weekend home game.

Moores remains deeply grateful to the Twins for allowing her to sell locally grown salads alongside the stadium’s other food vendors.

Dave St. Peter, the Minnesota Twins’ president and CEO, describes Moores as one of the most persistent people he’s ever met.

Moores said with a laugh: “I embraced that and took it as a compliment, even if I’m not sure he saw it as an entirely positive thing.”

St. Peter, however, had only good things to say about Moores and the organization she created: “Roots for the Home Team is a groundbreaking program and a vital part of the Target Field experience,” he said. “We applaud Sue Moores for her vision, commitment and passion for pioneering this wonderful program.”

In addition to the Twins ball club and the team’s Community Fund, the organization also receives support from Land O’ Lakes, Just Bare Chicken, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, Deluxe Corporation, the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, Kowalski’s Markets and Apple Autos.

Moores has also expanded the program beyond the stadium. Roots salads are also sold seasonally in area Kowalski’s Markets, Breaking Bread Cafe in Minneapolis and at some Minneapolis Public Schools.

Dandy Dinger
Dandy Dinger salad

Rooting for the Cubbies

Learning a bit more about Moores’ background offers some clues about her ability to combine nutritious eating and baseball games in such an original way. While growing up in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, her father often took her to Cubs games.

“I had two sisters, but I was a tomboy who really liked sports, and I think I was the biggest baseball fan among the kids,” she said. “I still have an Ernie Banks autographed baseball that I won by entering a Jay’s Potato Chips contest. (She had to say why she liked the Cubs in 25 words or less.)

When Moores was younger, what appealed to her was performance: “What I really wanted was to be a drummer or backup singer in a rock band, but I had no musical or singing talent.”

Unsure of what she wanted to do for an actual career, she let her mother direct her major.

“I certainly loved to eat, so my mom said I ought to study nutrition,” Moores said. “I didn’t have a better idea, so I did.”

She earned a bachelor’s in nutrition and food science from Iowa State University and a master’s in nutrition from the University of Wisconsin–Stout.

She was working a summer job at the Roseville Professional Center when she noticed a cute guy who kept walking by her office.

“Finally he came in and asked me, ‘Are you as bored as you look?’ When I said yes, he took me out to lunch,” she said.

That guy, Mark, is her husband of 34 years.

Moores said their secret to a successful relationship is simple: “Mark has a great sense of humor, and I guess I do too, although it depends on the day.”

The couple, longtime Mahtomedi residents, have three children — Jack, 30, who lives locally and works with his father in their insurance brokerage firm; Clare, 27, who lives in Denver and works in health care; and Eileen, 25, who lives in New York and works in the menswear industry.

Cecelia Natalie
Cecelia and Natalie at the Roots for the Home Team booth. Photo by Tracy Walsh

Shut up and listen

Now that her children are grown and launched, Moores maintains youthful energy and enthusiasm by spending time with the young people, ages 14 to 18, who participate in Roots for the Home Team through their community garden programs, including Appetite for Change, Dream of Wild Health, Urban Ventures and Urban Roots.

“They teach me so much,” she said. “If I give them space, they fill with it good stuff. They are so capable. I just have to remember that if I shut up and listen, I’ll learn from them.”

Many of the young participants lack sufficient opportunities to fully explore career options, so Moores is excited about how culinary and entrepreneurial experiences can help them expand outside of their communities and discover their own potential.

“Founding this organization has offered me a greater sense of purpose on things I’m incredibly passionate about — finding opportunities for kids and creating a happy perception about healthy food,” she said. “I feel such a sense of gratitude.”

After the Twins’ home opener on April 5, Moores will be ramping up for her busy season.

On May 19, salad sales will kick off at weekend home games.

“It’s a seven- to eight-hour shift when I’m there, plus I need to pick up and deliver the harvested produce in advance,” she said. “We’re a small organization, but we’re mighty.”

Does she ever get a chance to watch the game?

“Not really, but that’s OK,” she said. “I try to get to some games during the week, because I still love baseball.”

Sue Moores
Photo by Tracy Walsh

Beyond Target Field

Moores dreams of expanding her St. Paul-based Roots program locally and nationally.

“I think the next logical step for our program would be to have a presence at Minnesota Lynx games,” she said. “They and their fan base are terrific. And I’d love other communities to use our template in stadiums across the country.”

Her passion and conviction are an inspiration to many, including Nathan Sartain, a culinary arts instructor at St. Paul College.

He opens his school’s kitchen every year for a Roots for the Home Team recipe-development day with area chefs.

“Anyone who knows Sue has noticed that every time she talks about Roots, she starts to cry,” he said. “She wears her heart on her sleeve, and she gives a damn. Whenever you talk to her, you can feel the authenticity.”

Moore looks forward to watching new kids come into the program, too.

“I have no plans to retire,” Moores said. “I want to keep growing the program and allowing it to continue to evolve.”


Home Run Super Crunch

Help out

Look for the “Garden Goodies” cart with the bright orange carrot near Gate 34 (by the flagpole), beginning May 19 at Twins weekend home games.

“Stop and buy a salad,” urged Sue Moores, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Roots for the Home Team. “Ask the kids about how they grew the ingredients and created the recipe. They love to tell their stories.”

Ask for the Home Run Super Crunch Salad — featuring pickled veggies, greens, beans, chopped pecans and a creamy yogurt dressing — the most popular salad last season. (Here’s the recipe.)

You can also buy Roots for the Home Team salads at Breaking Bread Café in Minneapolis and Kowalski’s Markets in the Twin Cities.

Hoping to volunteer? Contact Roots about becoming a volunteer career ambassador.

“We’re always looking for role models in food, business and sports to share an hour or a day to help our kids grow their appetite for vocational success,” Moores said.

If you would like to donate goods or services, the organization’s in-kind wish list includes compostable bowls, lids, sample cups, forks and spoons; photography/videography; printing/screen printing; social media marketing and public relations.

Learn more at rootsforthehometeam.org.


Julie Kendrick writes about food, nonprofits and other topics for local and national publications. Follow her @KendrickWorks on Twitter.