Empowerment by Juice: Fruits and Roots


By Zuri Sabir

fruits-and-rootsFor Fruits and Roots owners Damon Brangman and Jackie Richardson, Ithaca roots run deep. Before meeting each other, they had Ithaca in common.

Jackie, a Rochester native and Fredonia State University graduate, came to Ithaca in 2000 and decided to stay for a while, liking the relaxed, friendly vibe here. A year later she was living in Brooklyn pursuing a master's in art education, which she now uses to teach art at Ithaca High School. Damon's link to Ithaca has health and zen roots stemming from the Ithaca Zen Center in Danby. Damon, originally from a small town in Bermuda, met Ithaca Zen Center director Marcia Radin at a health expo in Brooklyn. He signed up for a summer retreat, cementing his journey toward natural, healthful dietary solutions for managing Crohn's disease with Marcia's encouragement. This holistic approach was both new to him and much preferred over Western medical solutions. "There was no choice between the two," says Damon.

Damon and Jackie met at GrassRoots Festival, where they realized they both lived and worked in Brooklyn, only a block or two away from each other. They bonded around good, healthy food — namely, Damon's exceptional spinach. Jackie liked his health consciousness, appreciating the opportunity to better understand how to eat to live. Damon introduced Jackie to juicing, green smoothies, and the importance of selecting the right foods and buying them from conscious sources. Jackie fell in love — with Damon, of course, as well as the never-ending benefits of extracting nutrients contained in live produce. Jackie gushes over the list of differences she noticed in her own body after incorporating juices into her diet — an almost-immediate increase in energy level, clearer skin and an overall sense of balanced well-being.

Jackie and Damon returned to Ithaca, and this year they brought their love of juicing to the public. They sought to find folks who had no idea what they were missing. "We debuted at Congo Square Market and NorthStar Market. The community at Southside [Community Center] has completely embraced us, and we have embraced them right back," smiles Jackie. "The community there enjoys what we do and we feel like we're providing a really healthy service."

On a sunny bench in the middle of Dewitt Park, a question is asked that resonates with all five of the African-American adults gathered — adults who understand the critical need in the black community to reconnect with our health: "What does it feel like to sell a glass of fresh-squeezed juice to a member of the African-American community who may not have found their way to this thing we all know is so great for us?" Jackie responds without hesitation: "It's very empowering. This is what we should be doing for each other — for anyone in the community. We should be helping each other, teaching each other, and we should be listening. It's a reciprocal thing. Of course it feels absolutely wonderful!" Damon agrees with Jackie: "It's empowering, but also hopeful, because for some people that's a big step. It's nice to see that step!"

"I often ask people to tell me what they think," Jackie says. "I wanna hear their feedback. After a couple of sips, there's generally a very big smile. And a 'This is really good!'"

Damon continues: "That's one of the best things about it, you know what I mean? We were out in the rain at the Apple Harvest Festival and an older woman came by and she was so appreciative! She said 'G-d bless you' and you could see she really meant it. That was worth standing out in the rain."

More recently, Jackie and Damon have brought their juice to the Farmers' Market at Cornell and — surprise — Fruits and Roots is preparing a juice truck, to be outfitted and coming soon to a neighborhood near you. "Nothing fancy," Jackie informs us. "Just what is necessary to do what we do, and of course comply with health department regulations, which is important." This creative step forward will increase the reach of the business, including serving at regional festivals and markets.

Jackie and Damon value supporting local farmers. This year they partnered with Solana Farms in Danby for some of their juiceable greens. They purchase a lot of produce through GreenStar, citing a very helpful produce department manager (that would be Andy Rizos), and they rent space in GreenStar's warehouse cooler to store their produce.

As for Fruits and Roots' secret recipes, you won't find them here. However, Jackie and Damon are more than happy to give key words of wisdom. Their successes come from trial and error. And, as parents of a two-year-old, they make sure all juices have been kid tested and approved. "Simplicity is best," says Damon. He offers that finding a balance of flavor is key. Their advice is to resist going all-in when first juicing. Start out with more fruit than vegetables and slowly work in more greenery and roots as your palate and tummy adjust. Books they suggest for great juice ideas and holistic understanding are Juicing for Life by Cherie Calbum and Maureen Keane and The Big Book of Juices by Natalie Savona.

That's it. Now you'll have to wait in line with the rest of us hoping to benefit from Fruits and Roots' sixth sense about juice. I suggest taking my sip-and-ponder approach to figure out their refreshing and rejuvenating combinations. I believe if I add a little more carrot to the mix, I'll have that one recipe down... or maybe it's apple.

Editor's note: We'd like to welcome Zuri as our new "Around Town" columnist. We wish former columnist Mercedes Redmon the best of luck with her new adventures outside of Ithaca.

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