Roots for the Home Team gives teens opportunities for critical thinking, creative problem solving, resourcefulness and leadership. And the teens have been able to successfully harness these skills when faced with obstacles stemming from the pandemic.

Whole Kids Foundation is by its nature a collaborative organization. We work to amplify efforts that directly connect kids with the roots of their food, spark their curiosity and encourage healthier food choices. The goal of spotlight stories like this is to celebrate the successes of innovative partners and inspire more opportunities to grow healthy kids.

Nearly 8 in 10 students (77%) in the U.S. from grades 5 through 12 say they want to be their own boss, 45% say they plan to start their own business, and 42% say they will invent something that changes the world, according to the Gallup-HOPE Index.

Roots for the Home Team believes that entrepreneurial aspirations and collective youth energy should be tapped today to help future leaders achieve their goals. Founded by Executive Director Sue Moores, the nonprofit employs teens from garden-based educational programs around Minneapolis and St. Paul to hone their leadership skills by developing recipes and making and selling salads that feature produce from their gardens.

As a longtime dietitian and nutritionist, Moores built on a simple concept: Get kids to appreciate and enjoy food by immersing them in its creation. Here is how it works:

  1. Partner with youth-run community gardens.

    Roots for the Home Team employs teens that work with local youth gardens, so that after they connect with the roots of their food, they then can nurture their culinary skills using the produce they grew.

  2. Connect with local chefs.

    Each year, participating teens are paired with local celebrity chefs who guide the teens as they develop recipes for garden bowls. The result is innovative recipes like the Poke Breeze with a pineapple sesame dressing and the Backyard Bash with orange basil citronette. Having students create their own recipes also provides an opportunity to honor their heritage, backgrounds and experiences.

    Inspired by their shared Mexican culture, four teens in 2020 created the La Azteca with avocado lemon vinaigrette, which includes ingredients their ancestors commonly used in dishes, plus vegetables they grew in their prolific south Minneapolis garden plots. (Get the recipe.)

    Another group of students channeled inspiration gleaned from an impactful leadership trip to New Orleans. Their Transformation Nation salad, featuring brown rice, red beans, rainbow carrots, celery and bell pepper and a vegan Cajun ranch dressing, can be transformed into a gumbo through a few clever adjustments! (Check out their salad and gumbo recipes.)

  3. Grow unique opportunities.

    The teens then market and sell their salads. Since 2012, teens have managed the Roots’ Salad Up! cart at Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins. During the growing season, Kowalski’s Markets, a local family-run grocery chain, also sells the teen’s garden bowls.

Take a closer look at how the power of healthy food is seeding youth success through Roots for the Home Team programming:

For many teens, Roots for the Home Team is their first paying job. But, of course, the experience is about much more than that. Through real-world business opportunities (growing, cooking, marketing and selling healthy food), the teens are introduced to skills, networks and mentors, and inspired to set goals, take risks, gain courage and learn about their capabilities.

Ultimately, by embracing this entrepreneurial mindset, the teens can apply key tools like critical thinking and problem solving when faced with new challenges both in their personal lives and their careers.

A New Game Plan

“Our kids are the compass for our work,” explains Moores highlighting how the teens co-create programming. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, Target Field closed to the public and the teens were no longer able to sell salads at games. So, the teens leveraged their entrepreneurial thinking and chose to distribute salads to communities in need during the summer instead.

  • Supporting essential workers. Each week a teen team prepared and packaged 200 of their salads to serve to essential workers at Bethesda Hospital, a COVID-dedicated facility in St. Paul.
  • Nourishing people with life-threatening illnesses. Roots for the Home Team partnered with Opens Arms, which cooks and delivers free, nutritious meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities. Teams of youth helped prepare and package a portion of the 1,400 meals Open Arms serves weekly to their clients. Open Arms selected four of the youths’ 2020 salad mixes for their menu rotation, then the teens came each week to help prepare the salads for delivery.
  • Tapping into creativity and marketing skills. In addition, a Top Chef-inspired salad challenge also sparked creativity and mirrored some of the sales and marketing skills the students would usually be developing at Twins’ games. Roots for the Home team delivered salad kit bags of ingredients selected by the youth on a rotating basis and challenged participants to create a salad based on the ingredients they received. The youth then named their salads and marketed them to the rest of the participants during the summer 2020 workshops. The best pitch won a culinary prize.

These contributions during the summer of 2020 had a significant impact on the students' sense of community, and they voted unanimously to include more of this work as part of future programming.

A Home Run

Roots for the Home Team is helping teens cultivate their personal and professional growth so they can create the future they want. In fact, 75% of their student participants see a different future for themselves as a result of their involvement with the nonprofit.

“Seeking opportunities, persevering and taking risks. I am a firm believer that these entrepreneurial characteristics are a barometer for success in life.” said Moores. “The youth in our programs don’t get access to a lot of opportunities compared to other youth. So, if we’re able to open that door and give them opportunities to be curious, to get creative and to grow their confidence and capabilities, then hopefully this will launch them closer to their hopes and dreams.”

Young Entrepreneurs Pilot Grant

At Whole Kids Foundation, we spotlight and support innovative young leaders who are driving change across the U.S. like those participating in Roots for the Home Team. Our Young Entrepreneurs Pilot Grants help youth-led business programs that are improving the way kids eat through gardening, plant-forward cooking or nutrition education. Learn more about the Young Entrepreneurs Pilot Grant and youth leadership organizations that we are inspired by and have invested in.