At first, some locals were skeptical of Take Root Café – would people take advantage of a pay-what-you-can concept? Instead, the Kirksville, Missouri, community became incredibly supportive when Jessica Parks and her husband, Tracy, opened Take Root Café in 2016. The pay-what-you-can model is simple: Each menu item has a suggested donation amount, although staff emphasize that you can pay less or more. Dishes from executive chef Jared Scott are focused on healthy and locally sourced ingredients, such as the Take Root Salad, with fresh greens, seasonal vegetables, a crispy soft-boiled egg and a honey-lemon vinaigrette.
How does pay-what-you-can work at Take Root? If someone pays above the suggested amount, that goes toward our giving tree. We have this beautifully painted mural of a tree on one of our walls, and it has little meal tokens; each token has been prepaid by someone. Somebody who’s unable to donate can use one of those meal tokens, so we make sure everyone can get a meal. If people can’t donate, they can volunteer for an hour – wash dishes, cleaning, restock silverware, wipe down tables. The volunteers are a pretty vital part of what we do.
Why did you want to open this concept in Kirksville? We wanted to have healthy food be accessible to everyone. Adair County is one of the poorest counties in Missouri; one in four or one in five [people] are food insecure. A lot of people are on a budget, and the cheapest foods possible are usually highly processed, high-fat, high-sugar. We want it to be a community center where people could have access to good, healthy food but also learn about their food – who are the farmers, who’s growing the food?
Tell us about the menu. Everything is, as much as possible, farm-to-table food. Right now, we source from about 12 area farms over the course of a year from around Kirksville and northeast Missouri; even our flour comes from the Midwest. We bake everything from scratch, make all of our dressing and sauces. Our chef is pretty amazing. We have some meat and potatoes-type options, but we [also] have lots of options for people who are vegetarian, vegan or gluten free.
What’s next? The idea has always been to focus more on the education and empowerment of our community, so while it’s important to feed people now, the long-term goal is to really create a local food system where people are connected to their food –
growing their own food, harvesting their own food. There’s so much from the seed to the plate that we want to do, and get people involved. That’s my dream.
Take Root Café, 114 W. Harrison St., Kirksville, Missouri, 660.956.4671, takerootkirksville.org