owner Danny Schwartzman spent his formative years as a
community organizer, and his background in bringing people together
shows. Inside his Uptown café, laptops decorate candlelit tables,
casting a flickering glow on fingers that furiously tap on transporters to another world. Two friends strategize over a
chessboard. First dates size each other up over a flight of local
|Since opening its doors in July 2007, Common Roots has composted more than 70,000 pounds of waste that would've wound up in the landfill
And the proudly alone—the single, the nose-in-book types, those hiding
behind the blue glow of the computer screen—are united with the rest of
the interactive world chatting about math and politics and food and
music and babies and everything else.
But it’s not just the exposed brick walls, local art, and local brews
that bring people together here. It’s the big idea—a great big idea
that by providing a local restaurant that focuses on serving organic,
local, and fair-trade fare—one can foster sustainability both on
Minnesota farms and in the neighborhood.
“We wanted to make these foods accessible and affordable,” Schwartzman
says. “The impact of what we eat makes a huge difference. There’s a
health thing and a taste thing, but there’s also an impact on the
community. When we’re shopping or eating where we do, there are a
number of people it affects.”
During most months, the food and drink Common Roots serves is 90
percent local, fair trade, or organic. In January, when layers of ice
covered the tri-state area in a frozen, slippery enamel, 56
percent of the food and drink served at the restaurant was local,
meaning that it came from within 250 miles of the restaurant.
It might seem like a small step, but the impact on the environment is
huge. Biologist and writer Barbara Kingsolver notes in her most recent
book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,
that the average food travels 1,500
miles from the industrial farm to the table. And it’s estimated that
imported foods produce 650 times the amount of C02 than local foods,
due to the amount of energy used in producing, processing, packaging and distributing all of it.
What’s more, industrial farming has had a major impact on rural farms:
In the mid-1980s, as industrial farms expanded and high-yields and
pesticides became the norm, more than 235,000 U.S. farms failed
60,000 more rural businesses went under.
Schwartzman wants to reduce the environmental drain while at the same time supporting the life of local farmers.
“If you care about supporting people in Minnesota and supporting
sustainable practices, you support local farms and local distributors,”
Schwartzman says. “The impact on the land is really direct.”
To that end, Common Roots develops its menu based on what’s available
at local farms. If there’s a surplus of asparagus or tomatoes, Common
Roots will create unique dishes that showcase and highlight the local
bounty. And its dedication to the community and land carries over in every practice. As part of the Make Dirt Not Waste
program with the city of Minneapolis and Eureka Recycling
, Common Roots has composted more than 70,000 pounds of food scraps and compostable materials, like the restaurant's napkins, to-go containers, and utensils made of corn-based materials.
Schwartzman's community-organizing background also extends beyond the confines of his Uptown restaurant. In the current economy, organic fare is seen as a luxury instead of a necessity. But Schwartzman hopes by focusing on the story of food--following its origin from the farm to the table--it will become a commonplace consideration and smaller shops will begin addressing the impact food has on the farm, environment, community, and health.
"I think it's really important that we all work to increase food access, to make sure that good healthy food is being consumed by everyone, regardless of class and race," he says. "We're trying to make sure the next generation is able to this, and it won't happen if we don't change how we think and eat now."