Last February, I went to Mardis Gras in New Orleans for the first time. My friend who lives in the French Quarter took me around the city so I could see how the recovery is progressing and places where nothing has changed since Hurricane Katrina broke levees and flooded the city seven years ago this month. Touring the city, I remembered watching the news coverage of Katrina, and thinking that the areas that had flooded should be leveled and returned to floodplains. Being there in person, experiencing a city so rich in history and culture and–still–community, changed my mind. It would be a tragedy to let it die. Helping New Orleans recover is an important national goal, but it’s a goal that should be achieved through new ways of thinking that will make the city healthier and more resilient.
Two organizations–the Recirculating Farms Coalition and the New Orleans Food and Farm Network–are going to do just that. Last week the groups announced plans to build the new Urban Farming and Food Center, which will join innovative water-based recirculating farming with traditional soil-based growing in downtown New Orleans. The organizations have received significant support in the form of grants, and organizational assistance to create a hub for research, education, training and community interaction on growing, marketing and preparing healthy food in the city and beyond. According to Marianne Cufone, executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition:
The new Center is all about empowering people to grow healthy fresh food for themselves and for sale at affordable prices to their neighbors and communities, creating green jobs and preparing delicious, nutritious meals.
The Center will include recirculating hydroponics using continuously recycled water with nutrients, in place of soil, to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. Recirculating aquaponics G combines hydroponics (growing plants) with aquaculture (raising fish). Both systems are ideal for cities because they can be built indoors, on rooftops or on oddly shaped and even paved lots. The Center will also have a community garden, with raised soil beds and fruit trees. Sanjay Kharod, Executive Director of the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, explains:
We want to incubate neighborhood-led projects and the regional food economy by working at all scales, from backyards, to city lots, to a network of commercial farms, with a goal of promoting food justice.
New Orleans has the second highest obesity rate in the country and is one of the worst food deserts. The Center hopes to change that through numerous avenues:
- The farm will source fresh food to local distributors, restaurants and grocers, as well as direct to consumers through an on-site farmers' market;
- A wide range of gardening, farming and farm-to-table cooking classes, programs for youth and seniors, and demonstrations, lectures and presentations will be offered; and
- The Center will host special events like harvest dinners and private parties.
The Center will collaborate with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. In addition, the Tulane City Center will provide planning expertise.
Hopefully I'll be able to check it out myself. I'll be at Mardis Gras again this coming February. This year, I'll include a stop at the Urban Farming and Food Center to check out the space, find out what progress has been made and delight in the rebirth of a city, right before my eyes.
Our thoughts are with those impacted by Hurricane Isaac. We wish you a speedy recovery from the storm.