Take Root, a pay-as-you-can cafe, was a staple in Kirksville from 2015 to 2020 until they closed because of COVID-19. Students would get a cup of coffee and study, Kirksville community members would participate in fun activities hosted at the restaurant and most importantly, those who were food insecure had a place to get food they needed and would enjoy.
Dr. Dereck Daschke, philosophy and religion professor at Truman State University and board member for Take Root, took a sabbatical in 2015 where he learned the intricacies of what makes people feel better. He said he came away with the fact that food is a type of medicine, and he works to provide it to others in the community.
Take Root closed in 2020, and with these new ideas, Daschke said he decided to rebuild it so they could further impact the community. Knowing food is a medicine inspired him to strive for a fresh start with the restaurant.
“Those of us on the board are really committed to the idea that people in the community should have access to healthy food and local foods. Just because you can’t afford the best food doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have access to something delicious,” Daschke said. “And, you know, that’s not a privilege. That’s something that everybody should have the right to, and so we’re hoping that we’re doing something to make that a better experience.”
Daschke’s personal motivations to help rebuild the business align directly with Take Root’s mission, which is to “address the intertwined impacts of the industrial food system – food insecurity, dietary-related diseases and a weakening rural economy. Our mission is to alleviate hunger and promote health by offering nourishing, high quality, local food on a pay-what-you-can basis.”
Missions like these require a board of directors that are just as passionate about feeding the community around them, and Kara Jo Levery is another board member that carries that passion.
Levery was the previous president of Take Root before they closed in 2020, and she remembers it as a three leveled building on The Square with spaces for meetings, events and theater productions. Like Daschke, Levery was drawn in because of Take Root’s mission, and that passion continues into their rebuild.
Levery explained that Take Root is a nonprofit, pay-what-you-can model that draws in all different kinds of people in the Kirksville area. Because of the food insecurity that engulfs Kirksville, she felt drawn to the idea that someone needing help with food could be more private to avoid embarrassment.
“We are creating community-focused spaces,” Levery said. “We want people to feel respected. We want people to be able to get their needs met and still have dignity. So the pay-what-you-can model allows patrons to get support in a way that does not feel too public.”
Brett Berke, Ph.D., is a Truman biology professor and a board member of Take Root as of last year. When he joined, Take Root’s physical location was closed, but when the idea of community dinners came up, he helped to make that a reality.
Community dinners were about once a month at the First Presbyterian Church in Kirksville. Berke said anyone was welcome, and they had grab-and-go options because of the heightened COVID cases.
“We would use their kitchen and cook really delicious, nutritious food that people could just drive up, wear a mask and eat, and again, pay as they can. So it was great,” Berke said.
Berke also said Take Root, while still maintaining its mission, is branching out. They are starting a double arm initiative, meaning they will have one express for-profit cafe and the same nonprofit cafe that originally attracted the Kirksville community.
The express cafe will be on the A.T. Still University campus, and Berke said the University is donating the space, oven, fridges and freezers they will need to provide food for students and any others who want to visit.
“I think we’ll call it ‘Take Root Express’ and will serve grab-and-go things like sandwiches and coffees and danishes or whatever [we]you feel like making for profit,” said Berke.
The board is hoping to get this location up and running by January, but in the meantime, they will be working on hiring staff and managers for that location.
Along with the express cafe, the board of directors is also in the process of claiming a new space to call home for their nonprofit cafe. Dashcke said they have a couple of spaces in mind on The Square for where they will relocate.
For now, they have architects coming up with plans for how and where to build kitchens, counter space and seating. There is not an estimated opening date yet, but the board is excited to get the ball rolling, said Daschke.
“I sort of have been thinking about how a community can be a place for health and healing,” Daschke said. “[During my sabbatical], I learned how simple it is to create a community around food … Nothing makes people feel included like being included in meals …. Creating a space where people can sit down and have food together is not the hardest thing.”
The board of directors have many aspirations for the future of Take Root, but one idea, separate from their usual community events, would be a teaching kitchen, said Daschke.
In studying food insecurity, Daschke found that some people do not have fundamental knowledge about cooking.
“[We] can offer what we think is helpful advice about buying healthy food and cooking at home and things like that … I would love it if, down the line, we could have something where there was a group of people [to] just kind of do real simple, basic cooking stuff, and maybe even put together a little package of five things … that you might need to get started in a kitchen if you don’t have them,” Daschke said.
Nicole Dorn, senior biology major at Truman, said she was very sad to see Take Root go in 2020, but is looking forward to the new opportunities she will have in the new location.
“I loved all the plants they had as decoration,” Dorn said. “They brought in the beauty and comfort of nature, and I am excited to have [Take Root] back as a place to study and get away in a happy study place.”
Joelle Kantayya, junior Truman student, said she went to Take Root nearly every other week. Like Dorn, Kantayya was disappointed when it shut down, but has some specific factors she’s looking forward to in the rebuild.
“I’m looking forward to having a place to do homework and spend time with friends,” Kantayya said. “Take Root was delicious and every meal I ate there was wonderful. They also had great options for plant-based diets and the menu fluctuates based on available ingredients which I also appreciate.”
While awaiting both new locations, the board of directors need some help. Those in the community who are grant writers, want to make donations or have a desire to volunteer are all welcome to reach out to anyone on the board.
Levery spoke on the donation aspect and said it doesn’t have to be some large sum of money to make a difference. She realizes that many people don’t have money they can spend without making sacrifices, but she said even one dollar a month could make a huge difference.
The mission of Take Root never left Kirksville, but in a few short months, its physical presence will begin to be reestablished and benefit all in the community.