I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle almost one year ago when we collaborated on a lunch event for about 300 workers at WeWork in midtown Manhattan. I had recently released my cookbook, PESTO: The Modern Mother Sauce, and had been paired up with the Square Roots team for another event at Whisk in Brooklyn. Working together was a natural fit...fresh herbs grown locally and fresh pesto created and enjoyed universally. I can honestly say I have made some of the best tasting pesto using their basil and chives, harvested a few hours earlier.
Scroll through photos to see a few of the lunch items we shared with the hungry crowds.
I hope you enjoy learning more about Michelle and the fine work she and the folks at Square Roots are doing.
Can you share with our readers how you found your way to Square Roots and explain its mission?
a. Square Roots is an urban farming company that was co-founded in 2016 by Tobias Peggs and Kimbal Musk. Our mission is to bring local, real food to people in cities across the world while empowering the next generation of leaders in urban farming. We have production farms in Brooklyn, NY, and Grand Rapids, MI - with more to come! Before joining Square Roots, I was a traveling oyster saleswoman for about five years! It’s always been important to me to work for companies that are mission-driven and related to food and sustainability. In early 2019 when I was ready for a career change, I literally Googled “farms in NYC” and Square Roots came up! I was immediately intrigued and inspired by the company’s mission, and have now been working there for just over one year.
Tell us how you became so enamored with urban farming? Was there a certain person or something specific that turned your world around?
a. A passion for good food and sustainability has been the tailwind propelling me throughout my entire career.
b. My first job at the age of 14 was working as a butcher and line cook in a quintessential New England fish market where I was able to see first hand how the health of the planet could directly affect my paycheck. Watching Food Inc. as a college freshman, working in the restaurant industry and on oyster farms, have been the cherished experiences that have led me where I am today at Square Roots.
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Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you enjoy spending your free time? Travel, gardening, cooking, exploring?
Under normal circumstances, I love to travel and spend time in nature with friends. Under today’s circumstances, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading, playing games over Zoom with family and friends, taking yoga and meditation classes online, experimenting with rollerblading (yikes)...and indulging in Netflix, of course.
Since my blog focuses on Pesto, do you have a favorite Pesto flavor? If yes, how do you like to serve it?
a. I have yet to tire of classic basil pesto. I make about a quart of basil pesto every week (perks of working at Square Roots)! I love how it’s a great vehicle for using up assorted farmers market greens in my fridge, like sorrel, spinach, and dandelion greens.
b. When I eat pesto, it takes up the majority of the plate - I like my bowl pesto with a side of pasta (or roasted veggies, tuna salad, grilled chicken). In proper quarantine fashion, a favorite meal has been stirring pesto into a pot of Annie’s box mac and cheese.
If you could enjoy a Pesto inspired meal with anyone, who would that be? Where would it take place? What flavor Pesto would you highlight and what would the meal consist of?
a. My mom is my OG pesto queen and makes pesto every summer using basil from her garden. Her pesto is super peppery and bright, thanks to heavy handfuls of spicy arugula and plenty of garlic.
b. I grew up near Cape Cod and have memories of sitting on the beach in the summertime, eating my mom’s pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes off of colorful plastic plates next to a bonfire. I’d love to be able to recreate a relaxing night like that on the beach - a simple picnic starring basil pesto pasta with family!
In our current new “Stay at Home” reality, how does the work at Square Roots continue? How are you doing? Are you working from home? What are you eating/cooking?
a. At Square Roots, we believe that we have a moral obligation to use the resources we have at hand––skilled farmers and our farm-tech platform, delivery trikes––to keep growing food and to find ways to get that food to as many people as possible when we’re shopping in grocery stores and cooking for ourselves more than ever. We’ve expanded our grocery store presence and are donating a large amount of the produce we grow to those in need, through our partnership with Rethink Food NYC. Through all of this, we have kept the safety of people––both our team and our wider community–– a priority, while operating in line with state executive orders.
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b. Personally, I work from home 2 days a week on my regular sales and marketing duties, and work on the farm crew 3 days a week!
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c. Unlike some, I’m not feeling incredibly motivated during this time to make gourmet meals and tinker with complicated recipes. Farm work is pretty tiring so I try to keep things simple by prepping ingredients that are easy to throw together after a long day on the farm. Things like...roasted sweet potatoes, big batches of pesto, stir-fries, and baking chocolate chip cookies. SUPER BASIC!
Looking forward to the day when we all can return to our normal routine, what do you most look forward to? How are you changing/adapting today?
a. Some days are easier to manage than others! I try to accept where I’m at that day and prioritize my general wellbeing by staying active, meditating...indulging in rest, movies, and chocolate chip cookies.
b. My post-quarantine fantasy involves swimming in the ocean and planning a vacation with some friends!
Thank you Michelle for sharing a bit about yourself and the work you and the crew at Square Roots are doing daily to make the world and our stomachs happy! Please visit www.squareroots.com or @squarerootsgrow to learn more about the company and locate a retailer near you to pick up their fresh herbs.