Stand and Deliver: Combining Creative Problem-Solving With a Passion for Public Good with Laura Kovacevich
by Lisa Gable · 07 Aug 2023 · 12 min read
My Stand and Deliver series features women who lead through inspiration and aspiration. Today’s article highlights how creative problem-solving combined with a passion for public good can help address challenges in the health and nutrition industries.
I chose to interview Laura Kovacevich because she is on the cutting edge of food innovation, intending to bring unprocessed, clean-label, nutritious food products to improve health and wellness for those in need. Coincidentally, she is also my daughter’s boss.
Laura Kovacevich is the co-founder of Roots Food Foundation and Feeding the Blind. Born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley, her passion for helping underserved communities and connecting individuals to the Earth and their roots led her to build Roots Food Foundation, which aims to bring generational change to underserved communities through earth-made, healthy food. The foundation donates one medically tailored meal for every ten meals sold by the foundation's parent company, Roots Food Group. Kovacevich also founded Feeding the Blind, recognizing that diabetes-related vision loss can be delayed or even prevented by following a proper diet and living a healthy lifestyle. In 2021, she launched the Seeds + Soil = Roots campaign to teach people about where their food comes from and the need for healthy living. Kovacevich is committed to building no-cost-to-you community gardens in food deserts nationwide.
Laura, please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your career and what excites you about your current stage of life.
Thank you, Lisa. I am a huge fan of you and your contributions to the world. To be highlighted by you is an honor. My name is Laura Kovacevich, and I am elated to serve as the executive director of Roots Food Foundation and Feeding the Blind Foundation. My upbringing around agriculture instilled a passion for using my experience to help others connect with the Earth and their roots. Nature and homegrown food have always been sources of my inspiration and self-discovery. I am excited to share this passion with the world and promote the healing properties of food. We are at a pivotal precipice where healthcare, nutrition, and technology converge. The new Medicaid medically tailored meal program is advancing to create real change in the health and wellness of our nation.
Tell us what’s unique about you, your personal history, and your brand.
It’s beautiful how our pasts seem to prepare us for our futures. Growing up on a farm and ranching in California and abroad in Argentina has given me a unique perspective that translates directly into my work with Roots Food Foundation and Feeding the Blind. Agriculture touches everything. Our focus on a high-touch, whole-being approach with each individual reflects this belief. One cannot thrive if they are merely trying to survive.
My personal history and upbringing instilled in me a passion for helping underserved communities and connecting individuals to their roots and to the Earth. This led me to Roots Food Foundation, with the mission of bringing generational change to underserved communities through earth-made, healthy food. Our foundation aligns with the ethos of Roots Food Group, a mission-driven technology, healthcare, philanthropic, and food company that believes in creating healthy outcomes through Food is Medicine, an evolving scientific field where food and nutritional interventions are used like medicine to address chronic conditions, correct nutritional deficiencies or in some cases food can actually train the immune system to prevent disease or reduce the negative side effects of treatments.
Feeding the Blind, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit provides free and subsidized healthy, medically tailored meals for the blind and low-vision community, was founded through a partnership with Be My Eyes in 2021. I was driven to start this initiative after learning about the significant challenges that come between the health and wellness of the estimated 25 million Americans who are blind or have low vision, the majority of whom are over 50 years old. The vision loss that accompanies type 2 diabetes can be managed through healthy eating habits and access to nutritional education, which is what our nonprofit aims to provide.
What sets our brand apart is our focus on creating healthy outcomes through food and our commitment to communities in need through philanthropy and education. In 2021, we also launched the Seeds + Soil = Roots campaign, gifting gardens to designated individuals, families, communities, and organizations throughout the country. This initiative serves as an interactive way to teach people about where their food comes from and the need for healthy living. In an effort to create generational change, we are addressing food access and education through Roots Food Foundation curriculum and nutritional education with interactive cooking classes for all ages. We are in the planning stages of an urban food farm addressing food insecurity in a Dallas food desert.
Overall, my personal history and experiences strengthen the mission and values of our brand, which is focused on empowering individuals and communities to connect with their roots, access healthy food, and improve their overall health and wellness.
What are the three top tips you have for a woman trying to assert her influence and ideas?
It’s essential to take care of your physical, emotional, and mental well-being to have the energy, focus, and confidence to pursue your goals and ideas effectively. This includes developing healthy habits like regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet, as well as practicing mindfulness, self-reflection, and continuous learning.
In addition, it’s essential to seek out mentors and role models who can provide guidance, support, and inspiration. Look for women leaders in your industry or community whose values and vision align with yours and reach out to them for mentorship or advice. Join professional associations, networking groups, or online communities that can provide opportunities to connect with other women leaders and learn from their experiences.
Finally, it’s crucial to be resilient and persistent in pursuing your goals and ideas. There may be setbacks, obstacles, or resistance along the way, but it’s essential to stay focused on your vision, tune out the noise, and keep pushing forward. Learn from failures, embrace challenges, and use them as opportunities for growth and learning. And remember that collaboration, empathy, and inclusivity are powerful tools for building strong and effective teams and communities.
How do you help unleash leadership at all levels?
To unleash leadership at all levels within the organization, it starts by fostering a culture of empowerment and ownership. I empower our team members to take ownership of their work and provide them with the necessary resources with the freedom and support to make decisions and take risks.
By providing opportunities for growth and development, Roots Food Foundation offers training programs, mentorship, and coaching to help team members develop their skills and reach their full potential. We create a clear career path and provide regular feedback and recognition to help team members feel valued and motivated.
Additionally, we promote collaboration and communication within the organization. We create a safe and inclusive environment where everyone’s ideas are heard and respected and encourage team members to work together toward shared goals.
Ultimately, we lead by example. We strive to demonstrate the values and behavior we desire to see in team members and model effective leadership through actions. By doing so, we can inspire others to step up and take leadership roles at all levels of the organization.
Tell our readers about a major transition in your life and what you learned from the process.
One of the most important lessons I learned during my process is the power of radical acceptance and trust. Radical acceptance means accepting things as they are, without judgment or resistance, even if they are not what we wanted or expected.
Through this experience, I was able to learn that sometimes the greatest blessings come from embracing the unknown and trusting in the journey. This type of mindset helped me to stay open to new experiences and opportunities, even when they may not be immediately apparent.
Another lesson I’ve learned is to trust the process. Sometimes, taking a big leap can be daunting and intimidating, but if we embrace the change and let go of any resistance, we can move forward toward new opportunities and possibilities.
Who inspires you today and why?
Robert Jones, our founder and CEO’s leadership, expertise, and dedication to Roots Food Group are most admirable. I am inspired by his ability to use his past experiences and upbringing to create something impactful. Robert’s word and handshake are his bond. He is a devout shepherd to his team, providing limitless possibilities for what can be achieved with him as a leader.
My father, Michael Kovacevich, has also played a significant role in inspiring me, with his wisdom and life lessons serving as an embodiment of the example I strive to follow. I admire his approach to meeting every individual as a dignified brother or sister and how he has always been ready to assist anyone in need with quiet yet powerful acts of love and care. He is an absolute humanist, and his dedication to helping others has made a significant impact on me.
Both Robert and Michael have impacted and inspired me in different ways, but they share a common thread of being passionate about helping others and making a positive impact in the world. I hope to follow in their footsteps by making a meaningful difference in the lives of those around me.
How do you want to be remembered?
I would love to be remembered as someone who made a significant and lasting impact on the world by empowering others, showing compassion, and having deep empathy toward those in need. A legacy defined by promoting individual sovereignty and raising awareness of health and food supply issues, ultimately improving the lives of people across the globe.
For Roots Food Foundation and Feeding the Blind’s transformative efforts to educate our great nation about the benefits of healthy eating and enable people to take charge of their own food production. By recognizing the problems facing our world and dedicating myself to finding solutions, I hope to have ensured that everyone has access to healthy and nutritious food, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location.
We would be recognized as a critical contribution to the planet's health through our advocacy for policies that promoted food sovereignty and the protection of natural resources. Through our work, we helped to create a better world where everyone had the opportunity to thrive and where the environment was preserved for future generations.
Overall, I would want to be remembered as someone who dedicated themselves to positively impacting the world. My legacy would be one of hope, inspiration, and a profound sense of compassion for those in need.
My Key Takeaways
What strikes me the most about Laura is her serene presence and sense of family, deeply tied to her devotion to health and well-being. Unsurprisingly, she expresses much of that commitment through her profound connection with food and agriculture.
Drawing from her upbringing, Laura’s dedication to addressing food and health disparities is fueled by her personal experiences. Her grandfather, John J. Kovacevich introduced the Flame Seedless grape in 1973, revolutionizing the table grape industry. Additionally, time spent with another branch of her family in Argentina exposed her to the profound impact of food insecurity and inadequate healthcare.
Today, Laura considers her work colleagues an extension of her family. The Roots Food Group team cherishes the opportunities to gather with friends and colleagues over a well-cooked meal tailored to meet their guests’ health needs and pleasure. They understand that food is a thread that weaves throughout our cultural experiences, serving as a vital connection point for nurturing relationships, not just for nourishing our bodies and minds. Ultimately, they aim to ensure that no one goes hungry due to food insecurity or illness.
One of my favorite quotes from Laura encapsulates her approach to solving this problem:
“Radical acceptance means accepting things as they are, without judgment or resistance, even if they are not what we wanted or expected.”
This mindset empowers her to navigate obstacles with grace and perseverance, inspiring others to embrace the present moment and find fulfillment in pursuing their goals.
The compassion Laura brings to her conversations and work recognizes one of the most challenging aspects of diet-related diseases. Whether a person suffers from overnutrition, undernutrition, or conditions like Crohn’s disease or food allergies, sharing a meal can become a source of anxiety and stress. Particularly during holiday gatherings, individuals who need affordable, safe, and nutritious options may feel excluded. Laura strives to create inclusive spaces and support those who face such challenges.
Laura’s calm presence and unwavering dedication to health and wellness exemplify food’s profound role in our cultural moments. From everyday family meals to unique holiday traditions, food nourishes our bodies, strengthens familial bonds, preserves cultural heritage, and fosters a sense of belonging. By embracing the present moment, practicing radical acceptance, and approaching diet-related challenges with compassion, Laura and the Roots Food Foundation inspire us all to forge meaningful connections and celebrate our cultural diversity through the universal language of food.
What lessons did you learn from Laura'’s interview? Let me know what inspired you by connecting with me on Instagram or LinkedIn. You can also buy my book, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, at www.lisagable.com.