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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Local people in the garden

From left to right: Brennan (back turned) is our farm manager; Mr. Broch lives on Choctaw in the lower ninth ward and was a farmer in Mississippi for 20 years; Lester (in overalls) is teaching our students to run electric; turner; Minnie lives on the 1800 block of Alabo with his wife Mary Thomas and wants to build houses to bring people back home; Joe Ackerman is with and builds houses with residents to bring people back home; Jake has family land across the street from us and works with Reverend Battiste at New Testament Baptist Church on Gordon. We were out there for half an hour talking about everything from growing vegetables to building houses. They are around everyday and see what is happening on the ground. Broch, Lester, Minnie and Jake are from this neighborhood and advise turner and the team everyday about what we should be doing at the school with the young people and in the community at large.

Camera! Action! Lights!!!

When I was in school I remember settling into the daily routine of school starting 8:10 each period lasting 52 minutes and knowing the exact second on my watch when the bell would ring and I'd be liberated from Ms. Hedley, Mr. Goldstein, or Mr. whatever his boring class was. School was a chore that I didn't understand the necessity of and no matter how many times I asked, no teacher ever gave me a clear answer as to how the things we were learning would one day be beneficial to me.

For these students at our school who come from the same basic mindset, we do all that we can to ensure that school is relevant, truly educative, and as fun as we can possibly make it.

This week we began working with a local electrician who is showing the students how to wire buildings. But it's not only wiring. It's learning the logic behind electrical codes, behind the basic layout of a house, and behind the procedures that go into every detail of electrical work. It's building confidence along with real skills that the students will be able to use when they are working on their own home or in the professional world.

It's all part of the Build Our Village program. We learn the theory first and the doing second. We don't want to teach these kids how to do grunt work, we want to teach them how to understand why the grunt work is essential and how to do it in case they ever need to. We want them to understand the role of a laborer as well as an executive. Where do they fit? What is their passion. The more they are introduced to, the more they will know what they want to be and how to achieve that goal.

Lester is going to come back once a week for the next several weeks to teach the students different aspects of wiring. We have a model room set up in the classroom so that it can be a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, or whatever else they will be wiring. The next wiring class after each training session, the students will wire the room by themselves, explaining each part of it. It's an exercise in experiential learning as opposed to rote education. When the light bulb turns on, they know they've passed.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

And in no time at all...

Pile One: Three months old, one months worth of collection

Pile Two: Three weeks old, two weeks worth of Collection

Pile Three: Eight days old, eight days worth of collection.

And boy is it cookin'!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Building our foundations

5am comes quick.

We greet the mornings now-7 days a week- with a pallet of green waste from our nearest Whole Foods at Arabella Station, some 8.9 miles uptown from the school. Filling nearly five garbage cans a day with assorted fruits and vegetables we can finally see the soil building project move and shine in the dawn.

Once a week we fill the back of Dandy, our handy dodge, with coffee grounds from NOBrew, a strong supporter of our composting efforts for nearly 9 months now.

Terrance and Cory offload the coffee into wheelbarrows.

This is the foundation that gets us growing.

And our komatsuna mustards shine!

This is the foundation, the root, of Our School.
By taking care of our earth, nurturing its potential, we can be its greatest advocates.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Food Justice, Week One

We began our Food Justice class today at Save-a-Lot, the closest grocery store to Our School. We’re spending a lot of time this semester looking into our food system, understanding how it functions and our relationship to it. We’re beginning that process by buying food at the closest “food access points” to Our School.

I say “food access point” because the closest place to get food in our neighborhood isn’t a grocery store, it’s a corner store, a shop that sells mostly liquor and chicken. This is the case for a lot of neighborhoods in New Orleans, and a lot of neighborhoods throughout the country. So many communities are lacking access to healthy and affordable food, not to mention local and organic produce.
Each week, we're beginning class in the places most of us get our food – corner stores and groceries – looking at the quality and affordability of the food that all we have access to. As a class, we made groceries last week at Magnolia Discount (our corner store) and ended up spending a total of $67.47 on just three meals for eight people. Needless to say, there isn’t much access to affordable food in the Lower Ninth Ward.

So that’s why we ended up at Save-a-lot, to see what food access looks like at a grocery store that markets itself to low income communities. We learned a couple things today. For one, we learned that when you shop at Save-a-lot, you actually do save a lot. We spent just over $115, and bought a week’s worth of meals for our students and staff. That’s a whole lot of savings – over $450 if you count how much it would have cost to buy a week of groceries at Magnolia. These numbers really do speak for themselves – there isn’t really any affordable food in the neighborhood, but if you travel about two and a half miles out, you’re likely to find at least some affordable food products.

Still, going to SaveaLot really complicated the definition of food access that we formed in class last week at Magnolia. Looking at food in the Lower Nine, it’s easy to focus on affordability and proximity – how much your food costs and how close it is to you. But at Savealot the question became a bit more difficult - sure, you can buy more food, but what kind of food do you actually have the option to buy? We came back to school with some fruits and vegetables, but ended up mostly with boxed food, made from ingredients that were as hard to pronounce as they were to identify.

The major questions we’re looking at right now sound something like "what kinds of food are most readily available to low-income folks in New Orleans, and how do these foods affect our minds, bodies, and communities?" As we begin to explore the dynamics of our dominant food system this term - looking into its impacts on our world and imagining what a sustainable food system could look like - it’s becoming more and more apparent that this coursework is one piece of a larger picture, that it is an essential part of working together to reimagine our relationship with food and create a sustainable, local food economy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Back to School

School has resumed at the Blair Grocery and we're already busy with our new classes in New Orleans History, Food Justice, Urban Communities, and Public Health. These classes overlap with each other, as well as with experiential learning projects. Students are already learning and applying knowledge to create a local food system, and, in this new year, will be presenting local histories and designing a healthy, sustainable community they can then help build.

In our first Urban Communities class, each student drew his or her ideal city block. They presented their drawings to classmates, who asked questions and critiqued their designs. For the residents living in their dream community, they included businesses that provide local services and jobs, urban farms to grow food to sell and eat locally, common recreation areas such as a field, a park, a basketball court, and a pool, centers for community health and education, and houses that could withstand the floodwaters should they return again. Having grown up in a city with visible examples of the best and worst urban planning, our students are able to think and talk about important issues within urban design without any training. What's more, they are eager and excited to put their ideas to practice!

We, students and teachers alike, have also been working to recruit more students and we hope to have a committed group of ten by November.

Our new staff is really excited about the school year and the potential of our students. Look for more updates on our classes, community projects, and many great things to come as we get rolling!