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Friday, March 20, 2009

Young gardeners

Rashad and Rodeo stopped by yesterday and checked out the strawberries. They came back again today and brought their friends Jason, Jonathan and Dorian from MLK Elementary to play some basketball and see if there were any strawberries to eat. Well, I figured they would come back so I bought them some strawberries to plant, water, weed, nurture and eat. We also walked through the garden and they tried some of the fresh vegetables. They were really excited to try everything but their reaction to the flavors were mixed. They liked the swiss chard. They liked the radishes at first but then the flavor turned spicy. Everybody liked the way the rosemary smelled and Jason even took a sprig home to put in his sock drawer. Hopefully they will come back again soon to tend to their strawberries and plant more fruits and vegetables in their raised bed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Post From Wisconsin!

Hello blog readers.  My name is Molly, and I spent a few days with Turner and his students last week.  

Much like the author of the email a few posts down, I cannot help but be affected by the progressive initiatives in New Orleans every time I visit the city.  What Turner is doing is more than simply inspirational, it is practical and a pure form of social justice.  

Last Friday, Turner led  a tour of  micro-farming in the city for the Make It Right Foundation.  I tagged along on the tour (which doubled as a field trip for the boys) and took a few photos to share!


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How was school today?

Today we went to a neighbor's house and planted trees. We planted a sweet kumquat and a ruby red grapefruit. We learned a lot and had a good time working with other members of the Lower Ninth Ward Urban Farming Coalition.

We also spent some looking at the schedule for the upcoming 6th Annual New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival and decided on some films we want to check out on their website

And, the students worked with Dave designing the logo for the school. We'll show it to you when it's finished.

60 Minutes segment on local organic growing at schools

Last weekend, 60 Minutes did a segment on the Edible Schoolyard. It focused on Alice Waters, a champion of local, organically grown food, who is now pushing for schools to plant gardens to give children the experience of growing and eating their own food. Here is a link:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An email from a recent volunteer/visitor from New York

Only a week back and I've been drinking consistently, barely sleeping, and clawing up the walls in mania. It really is something about this city; I'm not the only one it effects.

We come here as different people to prepare ourselves for the torrent that is our lives here. Your average shrink would argue that we're putting up our armor and defense mechanisms. I full heartedly disagree. We're stripping ourselves away, not just of humanity, but of our simple sanity, to grasp onto the dillusional reality surrounding us.

But see in the process of living stripped, we're continuously examining ourselves, to the point it becomes a neurosis. How beautifully easy it is to get caught up in such narcassistic neuroticism. But that downward spiral reaches a boiling point where you can't look into the mirror anymore, and instead go to the window to see: yourself. We haven't adapted. We still don't have not an ounce more control of our mental well being. We've become what we hate in the process of trying to live with it, not in it. Self-defeat.

I speculate this is a trend amongst large port cities. Areas designated to commerce and the flow of capital can't meet the needs of an emotional organism.

Reports of Geese skipping out on their migration periods due to the confusion cause by city based light pollution have flooded the papers in the past. Are they still Geese when an instinctual trait, and a core identity trait suddenly go missing? Maybe they're a new bird, a different kind of bird. One that will be doomed to over populate or simply vanish along with its anachronic migration patterns. That being said, what of the state of humanity? Not the collective humanity, but the human trait; how is that trait in us affected when forced to live under diverse altering conditions?

I suspect each city has its own form of altered states and the manifested product of each. But here, the ones I know, the ones I know who have lived through this process for years- none of us can really take this one anymore.

A friend questioned me as to how long it would be before I got tired of New Orleans. I told him I'll be miserable any where, but I can't be such here. A different city. A different system of metamorphosis, a different view when you can't stand it all and have to throw your head out the window.

It feels infantile trying to explain this all. "You can't run away from your problems" is the constant response. But maybe it isn't running, or delaying, but in fact solving. Maybe my life blood cannot synchronize with the life blood of my environment here properly.

I have absolutely why I write to you of all people. I don't doubt you've gone through the same at some point or another, and even fear hearing "oh it's just part of growing old"- well it isn't. I look around me and that we I saw before is so spread out and so singular, that it has to be a sign of a problem. A defect. A loose screw somewhere, and simply trying to grow out of it will not work.

I'm not looking for answers from you either. Something just said this is for Lacar.

Learning about farming

Just a quick update on two things from today.

The first one is that we visited The Edible Schoolyard. Denise gave us an amazing tour of their gardens and told us all about their programs. Here is a link to their website: The flowers were in full bloom, the vegetables were flourishing and the energy around the school was contagious. I think they are having an open garden this weekend around midday. It's well worth checking it out. I left feeling hopeful about the way Denise and her colleagues do interdisciplinary, experiential learning on sustainability, environmental justice and local food security with young people.

After I dropped the students off I went to a training at The Hollygrove Market and Farm ( with Brennan put on by The New Orleans Food and Farm Network ( The training was on beneficial bugs and pests in your garden. I wouldn't have thought I would be doing this a year ago but it was wonderful!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

it's coming together

Today was filled with especially rich moments.

We started out with a brainstorming session on key aspects of our growing urban microfarm. I wish I had taken some pictures but the students were on fire. I got caught up in the energy and forgot. We started out with a list of key ideas and concepts related to making the microfarming project thrive. We were sitting outside in the shade of the building in full view of the garden and riffed off of those prompts making connections to the microfarm.

The photograph of the notes/notepad on the right is hard to read so it's copied here. (prompts are in normal text and student comments are in italics.)

what is thinking things thru?
work with peers as a team to share ideas
everybody needs to participate to make things work right
we need to stop and think: is what we're doing going done the right path?

what role do choices play?
the choices you make lead to consequences
for example, if you plant a seed, then things might grow
for example, if you don't water the plants, then they might die

how about consequences?
what you do will lead things in certain directions and you have to deal with them
things can go bad and lead to discipline (like jail)

what about productivity?
it means when the garden is healthy/nice and sustainable/manageable
we want lots of productivity
you have to take care of yourself to be productive
we have to manage the garden

we have to be consistent in how we deal with the garden
like being there regularly

what about planning?
forethought is key (thinking things thru before)
thinking ahead
seeing what's coming up ahead of time

companion planting?
healthy, close relationships
things that good good together

problem solving and troubleshooting?
(this was an add on during the session. will be followed up on soon.)
you gotta deal with stuff.

it's productive
no diseases
it's really ALIVE!

what is knowledge? what knowledge do we need?
knowledge is anything related to learning
more knowledge leads to more productivity which leads to more opportunities and more choices

add on: things are always changing which creates more choices and opportunities

what about tending to things? what is cultivating?
you can't be lax
you have to be careful
sometimes tending to things can be big but sometimes it just means doing lots of little things;
just spending lots of time in the garden and knowing what's going on with each of your plants, like like children, and understanding what each of them likes and needs

how does sustainability relate to our project?
Terrance and Renaldo offered up a bunch of phrases and incomplete sentences that were heading toward putting it all together but they weren't really able to articulate the big idea in a coherent way.
I offered up a working defintion from our friend and expert farmer Pam Broom from the New Orleans Food and Farm Network: Sustainability is a situation where many living things can all live together in a way that is healthy for all of them.

The really great thing about this discussion was that everybody who was there was able to bring ideas and examples from hands on experiences they have had in the garden, from team sports they have played, from their homelife, from their personal experience. In the next couple of weeks we will be using these ideas from gardening as a vocabulary for our own personal growth and the growth of the school.

Then, we went to New Testament Baptist Church on Gordon to meet with Jake. He wants to put a backyard garden behind the church. He wasn't there but we'll try again.

We were really lucky today that Kathleen Peters from the New Orleans Womens Shelter joined us again to continue our exploration of social norms and our developing selves. We did forum theatre workshops based upon the work of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal about our interaction as a team and about how to maintain our dignity when others challenge our choice to garden and go to school instead of hustling on the streets. More on that later.

Anyway, it's late, I need to get ready for tomorrow. More to come.

Moving things along

Yesterday the students started working with Dave on creative arts. They opened by looking at a bunch of different images and discussed what art is and then they brainstormed about ways to represent what the school is all about visually. This is Josh's drawing.

We also transplanted some yellow onions.

And, we finished up transplanting the three sisters (corn, squash and beans) into tires.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Growing and growing and growing

This week has been filled with ups and downs. We had a sick dog who then broke a window in the minivan which broke down. We are happy to report that the dog is now better, the window is fixed and the minivan is repaired. We did a lot of work on the building this week and spent a good deal of time in the garden.

Here are some highlights from this week:

I guess the major things I am learning from the garden are that it takes some time to see the results of your efforts but that if you do the right thing it will probably work out. Also, that plants are tougher than they seem. We had about 72 hours of really strong strong winds earlier this week and the tomatoes were just getting battered around. Well, they made it through and they are looking good.

In the next couple of weeks we will be working on getting the electric installed, in the front half of the downstairs and the front room upstairs so we can get the computer lab rolling.

There is lots more to say but that's all for now.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Xavier University (Cincinnati, Ohio) comes to visit!

Students from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio came down to spend their Spring Break doing service and hurricane relief work in New Orleans from March 1-6. They are a part of a program called Alternative Breaks, a national program that sends college students to various locations, domestic and international, over their spring and summer breaks for service and experiential learning. Xavier U. has a total of 27 trips traveling to locations such as New Orleans, Biloxi, South Dakota, San Francisco, Appalachia, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Ukraine. Xavier University is a small Catholic, Jesuit private college with a strong focus on social justice and being "men and women for others." It attracts students who are passionate about helping others and living lives in solidarity with the underserved and underprivileged.

The two Xavier NOLA groups, totaling nearly 30 students and two staff members, have been helping Common Ground Relief with various projects including construction and rebuilding, gardening, cutting grass, and lots more. They have also sent members from both groups to the School at Blair Grocery to assist with the farming project. The students have been swinging pickaxes, turning soil, spreading mulch, and generally getting their hands dirty and having a great time! The Blair Grocery dogs, Buddy and Diamond, have provided tons of comic relief and furry hugs to the animal lovers in the group.

Turner met with some of the students on Tuesday to give a brief, 45-minute overview of the situation in NOLA, and particularly the history and current state of the Lower 9th Ward. They were able to ask some questions about why there are no schools or stores in the area, about the residents and the obstacles they have faced, and lots of other social justice issues. Turner was able to give them a good framework to put around what they are experiencing this week, while at the same time giving them an idea of his own background and motivations for doing what he is doing.

While in New Orleans, the Xavier groups have been able to explore the area a bit and talk with some of the residents who experienced Hurricane Katrina. These have perhaps been some of the most powerful moments for them, hearing from residents about the swiftness of the flooding, those who stayed listening to cries for help from their own neighborhoods and across the river and beyond, smelling death all around. The students have spent time each evening reflecting on the experiences of the day, and sharing them with one another to process the devastation they are seeing around them. Many of them are away from home and family for the first time, or the first time since going to college, and their eyes are being opened to things they may have underestimated or not even considered before.

The time the students are spending in New Orleans is short and it can be argued that a week's worth of labor might not have as large an impact as they would hope. The connections they have made with the people of New Orleans, with Common Ground and the School at Blair Grocery, and with one another will have far more impact upon them, and are just as much the purpose of their trip as hanging drywall or shoveling compost. They will return to their classes and their dorm rooms with a widened worldview and an increased desire to "be the change." But hopefully the small (though well-intentioned) difference they make while here will create a lasting ripple effect for the wonderful people they have come to serve.