Growing Opportunities

Authors: Alli Chagi-Starr

Finally back up on their two feet after Hurricane Katrina, people in New Orleans are threatened once again by the current oil spill catastrophe's triple whammy: potential elimination of thousands of fishing jobs; rising costs of food and other imports; and reduced income from tourism — not to mention the adverse environmental impact on people's lives. Offsetting the damage caused by this dirty energy disaster is the community garden/local food production model in New Orleans, a sparkling gem in the midst of the wreckage.

The New Orleans Food & Farm Network is led by the local visionary Daphne Derven. I met Ms. Derven at a meeting of the Green Collaborative, a group of 65 organizations working to create green alternatives in New Orleans. In our conversations, Ms. Derven expressed her commitment to providing local food aid to fishermen and others who have been left without work. The NOFFN believes "everyone should have access to fresh, healthy, and sustainably produced food for the long-term health of our environment, economy, and communities." To this end, the organization works with individuals, organizations, growers, and communities to help make fresh, healthy food more accessible to everyone.

I also had the honor of meeting Greta Gladney, who is also involved with urban farming. In 2001, Ms. Gladney founded The Renaissance Project, a 501(c)(3) organization, for the purpose of improving the quality of life in her neighborhood, the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The organization's mission is to support and promote economic development, food access, public education, and arts and cultural programming through advocacy, initiatives, and partnerships. After Hurricane Katrina, the organization has "expanded our target area and partnerships to include the Upper Ninth Ward, the Seventh and Eighth Wards, and Central City."

Even as these organizations continue their amazing work above ground, 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, the blown oil well continues to discharge 5 to 20,000 barrels of crude oil per day, an incredible estimate still considered conservative by some. While some hope that the oil will disperse and be naturally biodegraded by organic microbes, the reality that people in the Gulf face on the ground is dire, and access to income for thousands may be impacted for years to come. The need for food aid will only increase as more people in New Orleans are impacted by job losses caused by the oil spill.

In these conditions, community gardens will serve a crucial role in helping to nourish the community at a low cost. What's more, community gardens have additional, perhaps longer-lasting, benefits: Consuming locally-grown organic food is healthier for the environment and for people — and helps to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Many local farms run without the fossil fuels often used in industrial agriculture, which depends on harmful fertilizers and herbicides, and the oil to transport them.

Recently in New Orleans, a group of concerned friends made a toast — "Feed the people!" was our prayer. Now more than ever is an opportunity to expand local food production, not only to fill the immediate needs of those affected by recent events, but also to establish a long-term, sustainable food production/consumption model in the area. Any support we might offer to these inspiring projects will go a long way toward helping our friends in New Orleans.

The Renaissance Project

Mid City Community Garden

New Orleans Food & Farm Network

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