our-school-at-blair-grocery

January 10 - 18

Here are all the things we’ve done in the past week+, in bullet-point form because I’ve got to go help plant!

Tuesday, January 10

  • Site Cleanup
  • building French intensive beds in the 1800 lot
  • building spiral herb beds in the area we cleaned up
  • building a new compost sifter and modifying one of the old sifting tables
  • replanting leeks in bunches
  • replanting onions in bunches
  • learned that tilapia farming/aquaponics is illegal here, as it is an invasive species

Wednesday, January 11
  • Catholic Charities convent site visit
  • cleaned woodchips out of rows for tilling
  • moved a giant dirt pile
  • applied compost around freshly planted fruit trees
  • Whole Foods grocery run
  • story time with after school kids: listened to Alan Rabinowitz on The Moth Radio and identified the elements of this story of “letting go.” We then took turns sharing our own stories. Some of the stories were extremely personal, emotional, and powerful.

Thursday, January 12
  • finished building French intensive beds
  • laid compost on spiral beds and planted clover in the walkways
  • levee tour
  • broke down old mirliton trellises
  • drove after-school kids home

Friday, January 13
  • bent and raised poles for new hoophouse
  • rebuilt shelves and reorganized old hoophouse
  • thinned tomato starts
  • watering leeks and onions
  • put plastic on most of the new hoophouse
  • Missoula group departed

Saturday, January 14
  • Whole Foods ride-along- OSBG collects green waste from one Whole Foods location, six days per week to use in our compost
  • chickens- feeding, gathering eggs, fixing the fence after a dog got to one of the chickens
  • finished thinning tomatoes while Nathanael built mini-trellises on the mirliton pots
  • put white plastic on the rest of the new hoophouse hoops

Monday, January 16
  • I drove Randy (blue truck- green truck is Dandy) for the Whole Foods run! I really like getting up with the sun. Driving in New Orleans is insane. Ever look at a map of this place?
  • chickens
  • worked on hoophouse ends
  • watering
  • picked up 20 bags of leaves for compost from a gentleman up the road
  • grocery store run (Winn Dixie in St. Bernard Parish AKA “the Parish”)

Tuesday, January 17
  • Whole Foods
  • I began reading Bill Mollison’s chapter on aquaculture
  • finished the new hoophouse (tentatively dubbed Patches)!
  • Nathanael made pesto eggs for breakfast- yum!
  • harvested hot peppers and lettuce for the New Orleans Food Co-op
  • discovered our sprinkler had been broken, so I watered by hand
  • unloaded Whole Foods load into compost with after-school kids
  • found yellow slime mold in the old hoophouse
  • found volunteer kohlrabi in the beets bed!
  • harvested kohlrabi, beets, chard, and peppers for dinner
  • Nathanael made some amazing hot sauce
  • I pruned the giant volunteer tomato in the corner of the old hoophouse. Pruning tomatoes is pretty much my favorite thing.

Wednesday, January 18
  • Whole Foods score! An entire box of frozen, pre-proofed butter croissants, and fancy cheese and baked goods discards
  • death by croissants for breakfast
  • organized tool area
  • organized seeds
  • I found a bush bean under one of the benches and planted the beans
  • identified leafminer damage on the tomatoes- removed and destroyed the leaves
  • identified caterpillar damage on many of the tomatoes- sprayed with garlic/cayenne vodka infusion, mixed with a bit of dish soap and put in a 1:20ish water solution
  • unloaded Whole Foods load with after-school: discovered an entire bag of whole pomegranates. This turned out to be an awesome teachable moment, as none of the kids had ever seen, let alone tasted a pomegranate. It took some convincing (pomegranates look weird!), but every single kid eventually tried and loved them. They each ate a whole one and took one home. We talked about pomegranate origins, nutritional value, and folklore.
  • Now we want a pomegranate tree at OSBG ;)
  • Quinn used her cameras to engage the creative kids in a photo activity. It’s really amazing to see these kids have opportunities to express theselves and let their artistic talent come through. It led to great discussions about dreams for the future, career goals, personal interests and talents, etc.

Taken from an interesting article on Our School at Blair Grocery in New Orleans. Here’s an excerpt:

A Different Education: Compost and Community

In the syrupy charm of New Orleans’s Garden District or the debauchery of the French Quarter, you might think the city has recovered from the trauma of Katrina. Streetcars are running, music is playing, and tourists have stumbled back with beads on. But in the poorest part of the city, which also happens to be the lowest part, it’s a different story. Nearly six years on, only 20 percent of pre-hurricane residents have returned to the Lower Ninth Ward. Citywide, the same percentage of residents had returned only four months after the storm.

Christian Adams, 18, told me he has no idea what happened to most of his friends and former neighbors. We shared a bench behind a washed-out store formerly known as Blair Grocery. Now it’s a school: Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG)—a supportive oasis in a neighborhood that also happens to be a food desert, without easy access to fresh produce. 

The air smelled of compost, some of which was splattered on Adams’s boots. Other neighborhood teens were planting sprouts, harvesting okra and figs, and screening potting soil.

The school is not accredited, and many of its students can’t read. Learning to read is not mandatory, says the school’s founder, Nat Turner. “If a student wants to learn to read we’ll help them learn. If a student wants to take the GED we’ll help them prepare,” he told me as we rumbled toward Uptown in a creaky pickup at 6:30 in the morning. Turner is lanky, with endless energy. He smoked a hand-rolled cigarette as he drove, switching topics easily between the likes of compost science, racial politics, and global warming.

We pulled in to the dock behind Whole Foods and loaded about 500 pounds of old produce onto the truck, for OSBG’s compost pile. Compost is gold at OSBG. Eventually they’ll sell the excess soil they build, but now they need all they can make.

At last count, three-quarters of an acre was under cultivation, including bits of unused land on the adjoining, entirely vacant block. The school is largely funded by produce sales, which average $1,500 a week. High-end restaurants on higher ground pay a premium for the produce, which they sell locally at a discount.

The school seeks to “create a resource-rich safe space for youth empowerment and sustainable community development,” according to its mission. In a neighborhood notorious for violence, it’s a place where students can explore their interests, learn skills like blogging, and formulate and pursue goals. But before you can plan where you’re going, Turner says, it helps to understand where you are. Local history is an important part of the curriculum. “They learn that things didn’t just happen this way, that certain things led up to it.”

The Lower Ninth Ward is a basin without a drain, and surrounded by water. The surfaces of the Mississippi River and Industrial Canal both often run higher than ground level in the neighborhood. When Katrina’s storm surge pushed in from the Gulf of Mexico, floodwater spilled into the Lower Ninth Ward from three sides, covering many houses completely. The water was finally pumped out 29 days later. Today, most houses in the ward are gone or vacant. Whole blocks remain empty.

As bad as Katrina was, Turner thinks worse disasters await, both natural and manmade. “It’s about being prepared, and figuring out where do we go from here: chaos or community?”

Read more

Check out this link! Awesome organization in beautiful New Orleans.

Our School at Blair Grocery:

  • Pro-health
  • Pro-empowerment
  • Pro-sustainability
  • Pro-environmental justice
  • Pro-opportunity
  • Pro-community development
  • Pro-youth

Sounds about right! This organization is going places. Hoping to check it out in person at some point!

Love,

An advocate of life.

Even $1 helps. <3

Please help 15 University of Montana students in attaining their goal of $2,100 by January 1st in order to travel to New Orleans for a week of intensive learning. 

The Community Development Agriculture in New Orleans class will visit Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG) for 5 days, work with staff and students on site to help, and to absorb as much as possible about the program. This class will blend some skills acquisition with on site study of social justice, situated learning and non-profit administration work. 

OSBG works with a small group of teenagers on an urban farm in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans. OSBG uses urban agriculture to create employment as well as learning opportunities for their students. While the line between school and work is sometimes indistinguishable, the experience is exceptionally distinct for the young people involved, as well as for the neighborhood. The program has brought life and hope to an otherwise deeply forsaken area. While most of the rest of New Orleans has been rebuilt, the lower 9th looks like the floods hit last year. The use of urban agriculture as a community development tool is becoming popular across urban America, and OSBG is leading the charge, working in one of the country’s most challenging environments.

OSBG blends entrepreneurship, education and justice in a place deeply crying out for all three. Students in this course will see all of this playing out in real time. Participating students are excited to share their insights from this trip upon their return. Please help them meet their goal!

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Hurricane Katrina not only changed the landscape of much of southern Louisiana and Mississippi, it affected entire communities. The hurricane separated families, and made communities already struggling all the more desperate.

“Hurricane Katrina had a pretty severe impact on this neighborhood… Outside our building there would have probably been about fourteen feet of water,” says Nat Turner, Founder and Director of Our School at Blair Grocery.

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Nat Turner speaking at Our School at Blair Grocery

The Big Easy II: Community Spirit in the Lower Ninth Ward

New Orleans is back - there can be no doubt about it. Everywhere construction is taking place, restoring the city to its former glory following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As we explored in our first article, most visitors will focus on the traditional tourist areas around the French Quarter and Canal Street in Downtown New Orleans. Even in those key neighborhoods, we argued, alternative visitor experiences are possible and highly rewarding. Yet given the impact of destruction by Katrina almost 6 years ago and the enormous community response since then, hardly any neighborhood visit in New Orleans could be more sobering yet uplifting and enriching than to the Lower Ninth Ward. For that reason we would like to take a closer look at a day out in the ward not involving “sighseeing” or tourist activities but rather charity work, community spirit and being part of grassroots movements in the neighborhood.

See the full gallery on posterous

The Lower Ninth Ward, historically plantation land closest geographically to the mouth of the Mississippi River, has traditionally always been among New Orleans’ poorest and most challenged neighborhoods. It comprises the districts of Lower Nine and Holy Cross, both administrative voting districts since the 19th century. It was here that destruction from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the worst. Not only did incessant storm winds and downpours ravage the area, but a barge hit a nearby protective levy, some argue it happened on purpose, with the swollen surge of water freely pouring into what has always been at -10 ft. among the lowest-lying neighborhoods of New Orleans. The devastation was complete and deadly. Many residents died as a result of the sudden, unexpected flood waters, while others saught refuge on their roof tops but saw slow only slow responses in emergency and rescue aid from official sources. Even at this critical stage, it was the local residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, who took matters into their own hands by going around by boat rescuing up to 500 mostly elderly victims trapped in the attics of their houses threatened by ever-rising flood waters. Even the highest point in the Lower Ninth registered a water level of almost 1 meter. Nothing and nobody here escaped the destruction of Katrina and subsequent flooding.

Once the flood waters susided, the true scope of devastation became obvious with 100% of the houses destroyed. In December 2005 volunteers began gutting the first houses. By January 2006 the Lower Ninth Ward remained the only district of New Orleans where former residents were not allowed yet to return to live, as basic utilities and services had not been restored yet. The neighborhood also remained under curfews for 6 more months following the hurricane. Since then, local residents have increasingly turned disillusioned with official responses to the devastation and started taking matters into their own hands. Among the more publicized efforts, in late 2007 the Make It Right Project under the help of actor Brad Pitt helped build 150 subsidized sustainable, earth-friendly homes in the area. By early 2008, the non-profit home builder Build Now helped rebuild numerous neighborhood homes & bring families back. Yet nowhere has the exodus of local residents been greater than here with only 20% of the previous inhabitants returning, which brings the current population to only 1300 for an area covering 2 x 1.5 miles. For that reason, many more grassroots organizations have poured in trying to help rebuild this part of New Orleans, among them lowernine.org, which we turned to for our own contribution to the community spirit of the Lower Ninth Ward.

Lowernine.org (see their website) is a grassroots movement that helps rebuild the neighborhood by concerted community efforts in several areas of the Lower Ninth Ward, including gutting, minor demolition, gardening, painting and blight management. The latter involves creating charts for each of the streets in the area, recording the current state for each of the properties by street number. Often the street numbers had to be painted onto the street, as divisions between properties could no longer be seen following the destruction, making real estate transactions for this neighborhood a highly divisive and often disputed affair. Where property divisions are clear, however, property may then be categorized as “inhabited” or “deserted”, in “good” “medium” or “poor” state, with the lawn “overgrown” or “cut” and the property for residential or commercial use. Blight management may thus help statistics for the area in rebuilding efforts. 

By carrying out charity work as part of lowernine.org, the community response by locals was overwhelming and heart-warming, with residents approaching us to thank us for our contributions. During our day of outreach in the Lower Ninth, we also talked to representatives of yet another grassroots movement, OUR SCHOOL AT BLAIR GROCERIES, dedicated to sustainable and environmentally stable farming and community building. Their regular Growing Power Workshops are an important tool in helping empower and educate locals and particularly future generations in creating communities in tune with the environment. As their mission statement on their website (schoolatblairgrocery.blogspot.com) points out: “CREATING A RESOURCE RICH SAFE SPACE FOR YOUTH EMPOWERMENT AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. WE ENVISION A COMMUNITY WHERE EMPOWERED YOUTH ENGAGE IN REFLECTIVE PRACTICE WITH OTHERS TO ACTUALIZE EFFECTIVE, REPLICABLE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE BASED LOCAL SOLUTIONS TO GLOBAL CHALLENGES.” They also have a Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/OSBGNOLA with regular updates on their community-based workshops and rebuilding efforts.

Work in the Lower Ninth Ward is far from over and the community spirit of locals and volunteers alike is what truly moves New Orleans forward and will create a better community. The sense of community here may only be comparable to that of New York City following 9/11, but feels more long-lasting and sustained here. For that reason, I cannot wait to return to further contribute to rebuilding not just houses and homes, but what is poised to become a unique experiment of a sustainable, critically reflective urban community.

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Laaaaaaaaaa!

(that’s the angels singing)