Serendipitous Humanist Service: Arugula Farming and other challenges in the Lower 9th Ward

The Humanist
Anya Overmann
January 27th, 2015

“Merriam-Webster defines serendipity as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” Serendipity. This is the word that’s stuck with me after recently returned from a service trip to New Orleans. All these conversations not only brought us FES volunteers closer with the high school students, but also with each other. Some of us expressed our struggles at the beginning of the week in connecting with these kids and finding common ground. But by the end of the week we were all at a hug status with them and with each other. That’s not to say we didn’t have our clashes from time to time, being in such a close and crowded environment, but the bond we formed really brings me back to that word—serendipitous.”

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TULANE HULLABALOO

Urban farming in a food desert

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2012
SAM MOORE
FOR SAM KIYOMI TURNER, TULANE REPRESENTS ONLY A FRACTION OF HIS INVOLVEMENT WITH NEW ORLEANS. WHEN HE’S NOT ATTENDING CLASS, THE UNDERGRAD TEACHES AND LEARNS IN DIFFERENT ATMOSPHERES — AS AN URBAN FARMER IN THE LOWER NINTH WARD OF NEW ORLEANS.
FOR THE PAST SEVERAL WEEKS, TURNER HAS LED STUDENTS FROM HIS SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP CLASS ON WEEKEND SERVICE TRIPS TO OUR SCHOOL AT BLAIR GROCERY, AN INNOVATIVE COMMUNITY FARMING INITIATIVE AT THE CORNER OF NORTH ROMAN AND BENTON STREETS. HE IS UP FRONT ABOUT THE ECONOMIC VALUE OF THE PROJECT: “WE’RE ONE OF THE BIGGEST EMPLOYERS IN THE LOWER NINTH.”
TURNER HAS BEEN WORKING ON THE FARM FOR SEVERAL YEARS AND IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS, FOUNDER NAT TURNER SAID. AN EX-NEW YORK SCHOOLTEACHER, THE ELDER TURNER SET OUT IN 2008 ON A MISSION TO REVITALIZE THE POST-HURRICANE KATRINA NEIGHBORHOOD THROUGH AGRICULTURE. TODAY, OSBG CONFRONTS MANY OF THE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ISSUES THAT PLAGUE NEW ORLEANS.
THE PRIMARY GOAL OF THIS TYPE OF URBAN FARMING IS TO PROVIDE FOOD SECURITY: HEALTHY, LOCAL, AND AFFORDABLE PRODUCE IN AN AREA THAT THE USDA CLASSIFIES AS A “FOOD DESERT.” RESIDENTS OF FOOD DESERTS, A HIGH PROPORTION OF WHOM ARE LOW-INCOME, HAVE LIMITED ACCESS TO THE LARGE GROCERY STORES OR SUPERMARKETS WHERE MANY BASIC FOOD OPTIONS ARE FOUND. IN THE LOWER NINTH WARD THIS PROBLEM IS COMPOUNDED BY OTHER INSTITUTIONAL SHORTCOMINGS, PARTICULARLY IN EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT, CREATING A HARSH SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES THAT MAY BE UNFAMILIAR TO, FOR EXAMPLE, A TULANE STUDENT LIVING UPTOWN. THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION FOR FOUNDER NAT TURNER IS, “HOW DO WE CHIP AWAY AT THE CONTINUED MARGINALIZATION OF CERTAIN GROUPS OF PEOPLE IN THIS CITY?”
OUR SCHOOL AT BLAIR GROCERY, DESPITE ITS MISSION OF EMPOWERMENT AND MAKING CHANGE, IS NOT OVERLY DEPENDENT ON CHARITY. IT HAS CULTIVATED MANY MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL RELATIONSHIPS IN NEW ORLEANS TO MAINTAIN FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE. AMONG ITS RESTAURANT PARTNERS IS EMERIL’S DELMONICO, A REGULAR BUYER OF THE FARM’S SIGNATURE ARUGULA. OSBG ALSO RECEIVES COMPOSTABLE WASTE FROM SEVERAL DIFFERENT ORGANIZATIONS, AND WORKS WITH AN OFF-SITE CATTLE FARM FOR EXTRA COMPOSTING AND GROWING SPACE. THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE FARM TRIES TO SUCCEED AS A BUSINESS DIFFERENTIATES IT FROM SOME OF THE OTHER URBAN FARMING ORGANIZATIONS IN TOWN, SUCH AS EDIBLE CLASSROOM, WHICH IS HEAVY ON EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING BUT NOT AS FOCUSED ON LARGE SCALE PRODUCE.
TO OVERCOME UNFORESEEN PROBLEMS, THE FARM NEEDS TWO THINGS: MANPOWER AND MONEY. THE MANPOWER PART IS WHERE TULANE SERVICE LEARNERS HOPE TO MAKE THE MOST DIFFERENCE.
“I THINK IT’S ABSOLUTELY VITAL FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS TO GET INVOLVED WITH URBAN FARMING AND FOOD JUSTICE MOVEMENTS,” SAID DOR HABERER, WHO WORKS WITH TULANE’S HOPE GARDENS ORGANIZATION SAID.
HABERER SAID THAT USING EVER-EXPANDING URBAN SPACES TO GROW HEALTHY, ORGANIC PRODUCE WILL HELP US BECOME MORE OF A RESPONSIBLE AND CONSCIENTIOUS GENERATION, AND WILL REDUCE WASTE AND TOXINS WHILE PROVIDING A WHOLESOME DIET TO THOSE IN NEED. FOUNDER NAT TURNER SAID THAT IT’S ABOUT “THE IDEA THAT A TULANE STUDENT CAN COME TO THE WORST NEIGHBORHOOD IN NEW ORLEANS AND DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE AND GREEN SIDE BY SIDE WITH LOCAL PEOPLE.” THIS KIND OF SUSTAINED VOLUNTEER EFFORT, TURNER SAYS, IS “WAY DIFFERENT FROM TALKING ABOUT ‘RACE IN AMERICA’ IN SOCIOLOGY 101.”
“Growing Cities” shout out on Grist
Q. You visited with 80 urban farmers; who stood out and why?
A. Something incredible is happening down in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans with Our School at Blair Grocery, a food justice academy. Nat Turner and company are working to empower youth by engaging them deeply with their food system, including planting, harvesting, and selling food to local restaurants. Those kids have stories of struggle — guns, gangs, violence — and every day they work on the farm is a new day for them, in a safe place where something positive happens with their hands. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Read the whole article here.