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St. Bernard Parish,  Vintage Garden Farm. red peppers growing

That is changing. Since Katrina, community gardens have become a part of the Big Easy. Food has always been an important part of New Orleans culture but a disaster like Katrina reminded people how fragile the link that connects us with the far away markets. I recalled the scene in "Gone With the Wind" where Scarlett returns home to the ruined fields of Tata and grubs in the garden to find a few tough greens that survived the devastation. She pulls up a handful and holds them to heaven and cries "As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again."

With plentiful produce close and available in case of any emergency, no one needs to be hungry again.


Ninth Ward community gardenin new Orleans
Ninth Ward Community Garden
While In New Orleans, I visited just a few of the urban gardens. Although all serve a common purpose, each is different.  

When Katrina struck, the hardest hit area was the old Ninth Ward. I lived in the Ninth Ward for a good part of my teen years and it will always be special to me. So it thrills me to see a group like  The Ninth Ward Community Garden take root and  teach residents good gardening techniques such as testing soil and avoiding harmful chemicals on food. Residents who may never have visited a "real" farm now are learning to harvest and preserve food they help grow right on Desire Street in what was (and is) as urban an area as ever existed. The garden, started in 2010, is an oasis where neighbors not only grow food but strengthen friendship and have a green place to relax amid busy streets and shotgun houses on small lots. Ninth Ward Community Garden is a member of NOLA Green Roots which serves as a hub where small local gardeners can come together and learn.

 fields with a worker iat Vintage Garden Farm in St. Bernard Parish
A worker in the fields at Vintage Farms
Traveling down through the lower Ninth Ward to Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish, I found another community garden, Vintage Garden Farm.

Actually they have three farms in the New Orleans area. besides the Chalmette farm, the Uptown and Metairie Arc centers also include farms  The farms have a multipurpose. Besides providing a source of local organic type produce they provide jobs for those with an intellectual disability or delay.

Site Manager Josh Raser Explained that the property was owned by the Catholic Church and was the site of Prince of Peace Church which was severely damaged by Katrina. Arc,  an organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities or delays, leased the land from the Archdiocese and began the farm to provide jobs for those with disabilities as well as a local source of safe, reasonable priced produce. They now use the church as a community center.

Worker holds a basket of red peppers at Vintage Garden Farm in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana
Shelton, one of Vintage Farm's workers, is justly proud of his red peppers

Josh described the farm, "We have about five acres with three in production. We're not certified organic but we don't use pesticides."

He showed me a section of a field with winter rye planted on it and explained that the farm grows a crop for one year on a plot then lets it set fallow for a year with a cover corp. Another thing they use are "good bugs" such as ladybugs to help eliminate the pests. They plant rows of different crops staggered rather than all of one crop together.

According to Josh, "The idea is different plants attract different kind of bugs.  On mono-culture farms, they have acres upon acres of whatever. If the bug attacks one crop it will spread all over. Here, let's say it goes to the row of okra then it goes to the next row it finds eggplant and so on."

Crops range from banana and citrus trees to ginger, turmeric and other herbs to normal garden crops such as squash, peppers, melons, eggplant, okra, beans and others. They try some different vanities such as a red okra which is popular since it looks so different but turns green when cooked. They try to keep trees in the parking lot so it provides shade for some plants that require it as well as a pleasant place to visit.

Heritage red okra grown at Vintage Gatdens & Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans
 Heritage red okra grown at Vintage Gatdens & Grow Dat Youth Farm 
He showed me the compost area which he described as "the lifeblood of an organic farm."  They also use fish emulsion which smelled pretty strong but according to Josh is "like steroids for plants in the garden."

As we toured the farm, several workers were busy harvesting some peppers. One of the workers, Shelton, brought over a basket of peppers he had picked. They were beautiful, red and shiny.

Visitors can come to the farm on Monday or Tuesday morning while the workers are in the garden and buy their produce or they can buy it at Crescent City Farmers Market or Mid-City Market on Thursdays. They also sell to some restaurants which are good markets especially for the herbs.

gardens at Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Olreans
Part of the gardens at Grow Dat Youth Farm
Grow Dat Youth Farm is another farm in New Orleans with a dual concept. Sara Howard. the farm manager, showed me around the 7.1 acre eco-campus site located in City Park.  It was founded in 2010 by Johanna Gilligan and located in City Park since spring 2011. Sara explained. "Our mission is to foster leadership in diverse group of young people. We hire high school students to participate in our spring and summer leadership program and once they graduate they are eligible to apply for positions as junior staff and come back and lead their peers and work on the farm. We structure the curriculum around four pillars: sustainable agricultural which comprises half or the time; leadership development and workforce readiness; healthy nutrition and lastly food justice which comprises food safety, migrant workers conditions  and how food gets from the farm to their plates."

Worker in Grow Dat Youth Farm's test kitchen in New Orlkeans
Sara Howard displays Grow Dat Youth Farm's test kitchen
They have about two acres in productions and sell to local restaurants and two farmers' market. They produce peaches, bananas, citrus and divertive garden farm crops.

Sara said, "We use sustainable methods such as crop rotation, cover crops and using beneficial insects and use no chemical pesticides or fertilizers. We are totally organic although not government certified."

They have a testing kitchen  on site where they can sample healthy recipes using the crops they produce and  a small "Mobile Market" they use to showcase the produce when they are selling it.

Talk about a win_win situation!


part of garden at Hollygrove Market and Farm in New Orleans
Part of Hollygrove's garden
Hollygrove Market and Farm is a different concept.

It is a combination of farm and store. The farm section  is a non-profit corporation owned by Hollygrove Community in Jefferson Parish.   The market is a separate entity.

Rie Ma, Communications & Community Outreach Specialist, for Hollygrove showed me around.

Hollygrove was started about six years ago. Organic is less a issue for them than local sustainability. They do not use any synthetic chemicals or fertilizers. They may use some fertilizer but no pesticides. "All are natural," Rie said. "We follow the organic procedures but are not organically certified."

The store itself is filled with not only produce but other healthy foods such as grass fed beef and local honey. Ria told me that there are three mentor farmers who assist them and they take on interns who want to learn stainable practices to work with the farming.

Hollygrove Market and Farm community garden in New Orleans
The community gardens patches at Hollygrove
They grow some produce that they sell in the market and purchase other items from local farmers and growers. In addition to the produce the market grows there are community beds for individuals. These are  small raised beds which are planted and tended by individuals. A member may grow whatever produce they want. Their only responsibility is to keep it looking nice and maintain healthy growing practices.

Originally the beds were owned by only people who live in the surrounding Hollygrove Community but now some are owned by others who frequent the store. If you are considering getting your own plot be aware they have a long waiting list.

Victory Garden at WWII Musuem in New Orleans
Victory Garden at WWII Musuem
A visit to another New Orleans attraction, the World War II Museum, (Click here for more about the World War II Musuem) reminded me that local gardens are not a totally new concept. One of the outside exhibits is a small "Victory Garden."

Victory gardens were begun during World War I and were an important source of food production during both World War I and II. President Woodrow Wilson said "Food will win the war."

Perhaps all communities should take a lesson from New Orleans gardening endeavors and realize how important it is to have a local source of food.


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