Friday, January 28, 2011

Fresh Is Fresh

Afterschool Growing Growers students discussing Fresh: The Movie

Fresh, one of our afterschool students, aced his quiz on Fresh the Movie.  Fresh Got Fresh.

Here's the quiz:
  1. What grows in Iowa?
  2. What is the problem with feed lots?
  3. What are cows given to eat in feed lots? What are cows supposed to eat?
  4. What is monoculture? Name 1 disease cause by monoculture
  5. What is the difference between conventional/industrial agriculture and organic agriculture?
  6. Why does Joel Salatin move his animals around the farm and Why do birds follow the cows?
  7. Why is cheap food expensive?
  8. What did you notice about the music in the movie?
  9. Do you think that they interviewed enough people? Why?
  10. What did the movie do to keep you interested?
  11. How are the farmers spreading their messages?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Our Automobile Needs at Blair Grocery

In January 2009 OSBG got our first minivan as a donation from a good friend. It was a white minivan adoringly names White Minivan. It was our first vehicle that wasn't a massive blue bus. After a while we had to replace the front end. That was expensive! Then we got another donated car and had to replace the front end. It was expensive! Then we bought another minivan and had to...I think you get the picture.

Louisiana roads are a death sentence for any front end. Any used car more than 3 years old is likely to have hundreds of dollars if work needed on the front end. So we got smart. A Volvo mechanic called us in California contacted us about helping us out for a bit. Before he was scheduled to be in NOLA we had a conference where he lives. Long story short, he found us a peach of a car that he had worked on for the last 20 years and new for a fact that it had been well maintained. So far Peaches has made 10,000 miles with us with no problems and no leaks.

We're heading to CA again soon and our mechanic friend has another car lined up for us. We're hoping to have to funds to purchase the car for 2,000-2,500 to replace an ailing minivan. Volvo wagons are super safe therefore the insurance is much cheaper and with all of the scurrying around dropping off and picking up students. So, if you'd like to make a donation to support our car fund please click on the "Donate Now" button on the right of the website or if you'd like to make a donation by check it can be made out to Our School at Blair Grocery and sent to 1740 Benton St. New Orleans, LA 70117.

Thanks so much for your continued support!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Anthony's experience at the SSAWG conference.

Last week Arthur, Tuner, Rob and myself attended the SSAWG conference about urban and rural farming in the south and in Tennessee. We were surrounded by many farmers who all shared the same goals and ideas. When we arrived, I went to the Crab Tree Farm, a wonderful farm in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They had special events and their own farmers market. Crab Tree Farm is the closest farm in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When I was asked what I thought about Crab Tree Farm, I said ” Chattanooga Crab Tree was an awesome place and I hope to visit again soon.” When I got back to the convention area with Arthur we attended the meetings about sustainable farming. We also attended a silent auction were they were selling important farming tools, plants, pictures, etc… Louisiana had their own meeting just like Mississippi and other southern states did. We talked about some of the issues about urban and rural sustainable farming, for example, how to market our fruits, veggies, and even sell meat at our farmers market. After thirty minutes of talking and commenting on our problems, we finally got together and made solutions to the problems on how to make an healthier environment for us and the generations to follow.                

Monday, January 24, 2011

Come By and Get Some Good Food


Come by OSBG Sundays from 1 - 3pm to pick up some Good Food.  Beginning this month, OSBG is selling Good Food boxes to our neighbors in the Lower Nine and friends throughout the city.  

We're proud to partner with Hollygrove Market and Farm to begin our Good Food program.  We're working with our afterschool Markets Assistants to develop a strong customer base by the summer.  Above you'll see a picture of our large box - fresh broccoli, green onions, mushrooms, potatoes, citrus, strawberries, salad greens, chard and cilantro - sold to residents of the lower nine for $20 and our supporters from outside the neighborhood for $25.  

Cornel, one of the young men in our Growing Growers program, picking out his Good Food Box.

Two weeks ago, we began a trial period with a handful of our neighbors, offering sample boxes in exchange for their input on the program.  Our Market Assistants drop off the produce each Sunday and go around the neighborhood Wednesday afternoons collecting feedback and taking orders.  During the market, they cook samples, sell boxes and represent the program.  

Stop by next Sunday and get some Good Food.  Make sure to get there early - supplies are low!  

Email cory@osbgnola.org to guarantee your box or set up a regular order.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wesleyan and Mt. Holyoke visit OSBG for the last YCCA trip of the winter

Last week Wesleyan and Mt. Holyoe college students participated in one of the Youth Coalition's brigades to OSBG.  Among workshops and getting to know one and other the students worked on building a hoop house, building row coverings for crops, meeting and working along side OSBG Afterschool students Dontrell and Keishunn, putting up a fence around our partner farm in Hammond, and working with other college students from Occidental college participating in OSBG project planning workshops.


Building a shelf for the hoop houses


Discussing potential community projects that Occidental college Wesleayand and Mt. Holyoke students can bring back to their own communities.


Putting up a fence in Hammond.  Once it is completed we will pain a mural on it with students and groups!


Working with afterschool folks!

We feel really positively about this winter's trips.  Lots is bubbling after the groups got to meet each other.   Not only is OSBG a developing educational center in New Orleans, but it is really a great environetment for supporting regional netwoking and collaboration among visitors.

Here is a thread between some groups that recently came to OSBG.

Aja:
Dear Pitzer YCCA,
Hi my name is Aja and I'm with Occidental's Disaster Politics/NOLA trip course.  We are starting a YCCA chapter at Oxy and want to collaborate with you on building a California youth movement. 
We worked with Arthur Levine in New Orleans this winter and he recommended the LA Systems tour and some of the things you all have going on.  We would love to take our new YCCA chapter on your systems tour as soon as possible. Many members of our faculty and student body have knowledge of and access to things going on in LA and it would be great if we can begin to work with you and your working model so we can utilize tools that you have taken advantage of.
We also heard about Pitzer's work in Ontario; specifically the domestic study abroad program and your involvement in the community, and we want to see if the model is replicable.  We want to start a community garden over here, and we can benefit from seeing how Pitzer has been able to work witth its surrounding neighborhoods.
We look forward to seeing your amazing work and promoting justice in our relative communities.  We can provide transportation there and back and compensate for gas for the systems tour.  Please let us know about the tour and visiting the Ontario site.  Thanks a lot, hope to see you soon.
Cheers,

Arthur:
Tessa,

How are you?  I just got finished doing a 7 part food justice project planning and training with the Students from Occidental taht are with us at OSBG this winter and worked with Alyssa Solis and the Pitzer group along with 3 Ontario Youth Organizers and one from San Bernadino.  I'm forwarding you this e-mail to share our progress and give you some insight in to the expected collaboation this semester.  ALthough I will not be at Pitzer this semester I am very excited for Occidental to learn from YCCA pitzer chapter and the amazing work of the Ontario Program.  This should be exciting.  While the youth meet one and other you and Susan should meet Caroline Heldman who has been doing Disaster Politics classes for credit with California college students in New Olreans every break since Katrina.  I think she can share her experiences with you and you yours with her as we try to build our regional partnerships for stronger local action and our educational partnerships for stronger collaborative and for credit programs in New Orleans.

I have provided the e-mail address of Professsor Heldman and the messege between the Oxy and Pitzer groups.

Alyssa:

Hello Aja,

I am SUPER excited at the prospect of another West Coast YCCA. Our organization is meeting this week, where we will decide on the dates for the LA Systems Tour and a tour of the land we were lucky enough to obtain in Ontario as well as community gardens that we have aided in establishing in LA and the local middle school.

Look out for an e-mail from us later this week for definitive dates. We are so glad to have you on board.

In solidarity,

Hopefully OSBG can continue to foster the development of relationships and communities of practice around making the change to a healthy and sustaianble future all over our country

Sunday, January 16, 2011

OSBG in the New York Times

We're very proud to have the work that we've been doing recognized in today's New York Times. If you haven't already seen the piece by Charles WIlson, please CHECK IT OUT HERE (http://nyti.ms/eWniJz) or read the article below.


We are so grateful for the support we continue to receive from our friends from around the country who are youth, students, activists, teachers, farmers, social entrepreneurs, community organizers, college professors, doctors, film makers, artists and others who care about New Orleans youth, good food, community empowerment, and sustainable redevelopment. At Our School at Blair Grocery we continue to struggle financially to bring to our students all the resources we know the youth we work with continue to need and deserve.


Please consider making a donation to support our continued work with youth in New Orleans Lower 9th Ward.


Thank You!


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------







5 Years After Katrina, Teacher Tills Soil of Lower 9th Ward

Ryan Meador harvests herbs at Our School at Blair Grocery.
Photo: Jennifer Zdon for The New York Times

By CHARLES WILSON
Published: January 15, 2011
NEW ORLEANS — For an embattled former New York public school teacher and six young African-American men, a wrecked grocery store here has become a place of second chances.

Five years after the levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward remains largely a place where time has stood still. Lots where shotgun houses once stood are empty and overgrown with tall grasses. Gutted homes with smashed windows list to one side.

Nat Turner, a former history teacher at the Beacon School in Manhattan, arrived here two years ago. He soon became a familiar and curious sight, driving a blue biodiesel-powered school bus emblazoned with the logo “NY2NO”— for “New York to New Orleans” — and offering his tutoring services in the bus for free.

At his new farm of less than an acre on the corner of Benton and Roman Streets, he spoke recently of the reasons that brought him here. “Louisiana has a 63 percent high school graduation rate,” Mr. Turner said. “It has roughly a 60 percent adult literacy rate. We know that wealthy white people Uptown can read, right? But no one really cares if the public school system works because rich people’s kids are going to private schools."

Mr. Turner, 39, is the founder of Our School at Blair Grocery, a fledgling educational venture and commercial urban farm in the heart of the Lower Ninth Ward. Operating out of a former black-owned grocery store wrecked by 14 feet of water and on two empty lots, the enterprise is an unusual hybrid of G.E.D. training and farm academy. With its emphasis on experiential learning, the school is also a clear rejection of the test-heavy emphasis of No Child Left Behind.
Mr. Turner, who shares a name and iconoclastic spirit with the 19th-century slave rebellion leader, left the public school system in the midst of controversy. He resigned his position of six years at the Beacon School in August 2008. At the time, the New York City Department of Education was investigating an independent spring-break field trip he took with students to Cuba.

Nat Turner, founder of Our School at Blair Grocery.
Photo: Jennifer Zdon for The New York Times


Though parents had approved the trip, it was not sanctioned by the Beacon administration. In the report on the incident, published this year, Mr. Turner is portrayed as a Castro sympathizer. Beacon’s principal quotes Mr. Turner as telling her, “I’m a Communist.”
Mr. Turner dismisses the report, for which he did not cooperate, as inaccurate and an oversimplification of his views on the Cuban government.
“You know the famous quote?” he said. “ ‘When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a Communist.’ ”
In New Orleans, Mr. Turner has had to fight a different label: carpetbagger. A neighbor once reported him for keeping too many chickens. Young men from the neighborhood have charged their bikes through his planting beds or cut his seed bags and dumped them on the sidewalk.
Pam Broom, the executive director of the New Orleans-based Women and Agriculture Network, said that when Mr. Turner spoke about the Lower Ninth Ward, he “projected this Northern arrogance about how he was doing what others had failed to do. That doesn’t sit right with people.”
Yet as the Blair Grocery project has grown over the past two years, Mr. Turner has won over some of his former detractors. “He’s gaining respect because he’s being productive,” Ms. Broom said.
Our School at Blair Grocery has six students, all of them young men from the area who had left or dropped out of their public high schools. With the support of volunteers, interns, visiting students and 17 local youths in an after-school program — as well as a staff of seven from as far away as Berkeley, Calif. — the students grow $2,500 worth of vegetables weekly. They sell the produce at a Sunday farmers’ market on site (at a discount) and at two dozen high-end restaurants in the New Orleans area (at a premium).
The project is a test as to whether agriculture can be an effective tool of self-empowerment for black youths. An October 2010 report by the Council of the Great City Schools suggest that the reforms of No Child Left Behind
“The Blair Grocery idea is to stabilize students’ lives by providing them a safe place to be and a community to do good work,” says Brian Dassler, the principal of the KIPP Renaissance School in the nearby Upper Ninth Ward, who has students who participate in the project.
The farming part of the school’s curriculum includes up to eight hours of minimum-wage work a week. Using intensive growing techniques Mr. Turner and his staff learned from Will Allen, an urban farmer in Milwaukee, the students turn food waste into compost; raise worms to make organic fertilizer; and grow, among other things, root vegetables, herbs, okra and sprouts. They also market and deliver their handiwork to restaurants, most of them located in the French Quarter and Uptown.
Jimmy Corwell, the master chef at the French-inspired restaurant Le Foret, said roughly half of every plate he served was now made up of food from Blair Grocery. When the students deliver their produce, he said, it also provides lessons in accounting and customer relations.

“These Ninth Ward kids come in, and I say I need a quarter-pound of mustard greens at $1.50 an ounce,” Mr. Corwell said. “They work the fractions and make up the invoice.”
Signs outside a school entrance.
Photo: Jennifer Zdon for The New York Times

Much of the academic program — besides direct tutoring for the G.E.D. — also takes place outside the classroom. Qasim Davis, who left Harlem to become the school’s dean of students, is shaping a set of courses with the other staff that is Afrocentric and free-form.
“Learning doesn’t happen behind walls,” Mr. Davis said.
When the students studied the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson segregation case, the class drove to where Homer Plessy was pulled off the whites-only section of a first-class train car in 1892.
A current events class in early November took the students to a blighted house near the St. Claude Avenue Bridge where days before a teenage woman had been raped. Outside, the young men read news articles about the case and engaged in a conversation about misogyny and violence against women.
It remains an open question to what degree the Blair Grocery project can stabilize the students’ lives. Most of the young men at the school come from backgrounds of entrenched poverty, crime or dysfunctional family life. The only classroom has a bare concrete floor and an upside-down map of the world on the wall, the curriculum is still a work in progress, and the school is not accredited. Even with six students, the director of educational programs, Kyle Meador, said, “It’s not uncommon that we appear in court with them.”
Yet there are reasons to hope for the success of the project — not least because the young people consistently show up. Josh Jones, a soft-spoken student who is a talented tattoo artist, designed the school’s logo: a black-power fist clutching a tender sprig. He said growing and selling food had given him an improved sense of self-dependence. Mr. Jones dropped out of his former public school; he felt his classes before focused only on the state standards’ tests, and he felt no connection to the material.
“They put the people out who have the low grades on the tests just to maintain the high-grade look,” Mr. Jones said. “Here, we all share and learn from each other.”
This year, Mr. Turner intends to reopen the grocery store and to build relationships with other area farmers to secure more fresh food to residents of the Lower Ninth Ward. The school’s work has received support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and last fall the federal Department of Agriculture awarded a Community Foods Project Grant that will provide $300,000 over three years.
Mr. Turner has larger hopes of bringing more jobs to the neighborhood through expanding the work of the school. Driving in his pickup down North Claiborne Avenue near the school one late afternoon, he spotted a group of older men sitting in a circle by the edge of the road, drinking beer. “All those dudes can roof houses, they can sheetrock, they can do plumbing, they can do stuff,” Mr. Turner said. “And I’m not in a position where I can hire them. Yet.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

gifts for the new year



No
w that the holiday season has come to a close many people out there are making use of the toys and machines and trinkets they were given. That also means that old toys and machines and trinkets are gathering dust under a bed or on a shelf. We would love to give some of those things new life.

We have had terrible luck lately with laptops being broken, stolen  or simply not working. If you or someone you know was gifted a new laptop for Christmas and are trying to figure out what to do with the old one we'd love to take it off your hands. We're looking for gently used macs primarily, but other computers would be helpful nonetheless. Please email rob@osbgnola.org or turner@ny2no.com if you would like to donate a laptop to OSBG.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

OSBG essentials

Last thursday we did our triple A workshop (AAA) called 'Analysis and Action' with a small group of students interested in doing project planning with us. We really want everyone who comes to Our School to have a solid plan as to what they want to do when they get home to their own communities. The challenges our communities face here in New Orleans are not so different from the ones that are in every city across this country.

The AAA workshop invovles drawing a poor neighborhood:


Next our service learners had to draw a wealthy neighborhood:



Finally we had them draw what would happen if the two neighborhoods came together into one shared neighborhood. What would stay from each? What would go? How would this happen? What new inovations would be necessary to make this work? This is a great exercise in project planning.:



We did a week of 7 workshops. Here is our curriculum:

Our Essential questions are How can I/We make the change to a healthy and sustainable future? What analysis and skils do I need to be successful in my community?

Levee tour
EQ: What is a system? How do our choices play into the functions of the system? How does it operate? How can we do systems thinking?
Give the tour
Have participants journal and process for a couple if hours before the reflection.

Ask participants to think of one or two issues that they found most striking and one issue at
home that they think is similar or relates.
Prompt participants for a chalk talk (no talking just writing with chalk)
In a circle on the board titled "Issues" have them write up those issues (White chalk for here, and yellow for at home). As participants to draw connections between issues.
Discuss (3 mins)

Next draw a circle around the first circle titled "Root Causes." Have participants think for a few minutes about what are some of the root causes to the issues they wrote earlier. Have them go up to the board and write them out (chalk talk)
Ask Participants to draw more connections as they see them.
Discuss (3 mins)

Next draw a third circle around the other two titled "choices" Ask participants to think of daily choices they make (McDonald's or Taco Cart, Coffee or Water, Nike or New Balance, Wake up or Stay asleep etc.)
Have them write three choices on the board (chalk talk).

Finally Ask participants to connect a choice (not their own) to a cause and an issue in the inner circles and share with the group their systems thinking analysis from choice to issue.

Reflect a little on the process and leave the workshop with these two questions, why do we make the choices we make? And what can we do to change this?
Fresh-->Intro to Project Planning
EQ: What Does CHange Look like? How do I/We make change?
Intos: 1 minute per person names and favorite animal
Introduce the OSBG EQ and the daily EQ and share the plan for the day. 3 mins
Free write on a movement or revolution that you know about. How did it happen who did it involve. What were there goals, why did it happen, how far did they make it, what were the leaders like? 5 mins

Watch fresh (ask people to take notes on how the characters are making change. What are the philosophies behind their work? What else do you notice about them and about those folks who are maintaing the status quo?) 2 hrs
- initial reactions. Do a round (1 sentence per person)

Break for lunch or stretching

- what are the people in fresh up to? Round 10-15 mins depending on group size
- what some similarities between the movement you wrote about and the farmers on fresh. Cross talk 10-15 mins depending on size
Mention this: So, what are you going to do?
- what are some attributes you notice about the leaders of this movement. What are some flaws? Popcorn 10-15 mins

On bord take down words that people throw out there in a + - t.

Break into groups, introduce project planning as something we will work on for the rest of the time in groups.
eq: So, what are you going to do?

- set up scenarios (blighted neighborhood or resource rich institution)
what is the 25 year plan, what's your mission, what's your vision, who are you going to work with, where do you get money, profit or non-profit
Think about the attributes of the leaders you learned about

Let them brainstorm fir 10-15 mins then tell them to leave. Provide Butcher block paper and markers of course.
Growing Power Workshops
Read pg. 1-6 out loud from No More Prisons
Divide people into groups of three and do rounds where each person in the group gets 1 minute to answer questions.
Ask:
Who are you? What do you want? What is stopping you from getting it (personally, and societally)?
EQ: What do we need to make our communities flourish?
- What road blocks were encountered so far in creating your project? (Reflection on project planning from previous day)
- Introduce quote; "Utopias are achieved by practical means". What is your interpretation of quote?
- ask EQ
-in project planning teams, look up flourish and then define in own words. Bring groups together and define flourish.
- Explain zero-sum game, and why they don't work. Use example to explain zero-sum.
- Explain win win win, give example. Ask groups to come up with 1-3 win win win scenarios and explain why they are win win win scenarios. Make sure they are coming up with ones they can use to support their project and not just hypotheticlas.
- Begin composting, ask probing questions such as Where did the green waste/ wood chips/ manure come from? How do you think it got here? Explain OSBG relationships.
- Explain how to compost.
- Begin vermicomposting, explain how compost to vermicompost is a win win win.
- show different stages of vermicomposting and feed worms.
- Big leaf, little leaf comparison.
- begin seeding, (20 radish, 15 arugula, 15 mustard(Label mustard and arugula), 10 cilantro, 20 pea). explain the closed system of composting, vermicomposting, and seeding/sprouts.

The City that ended Hunger
We went up to Hammond on this day and found that this article was relevant. We told people that it was a great story and asked them to read it.
AAA workshop
Take a trip to Mangnolia and ask participants to be aware of prices, ingrdients, products etc in the store.
Prompt: Now it is time to get concrete and focus on the projects that you are really going to do.

Activity: Draw a poor neighborhood with your project planning team. Then draw a wealthy neighborhood and discuss after each. Finally draw a new neighborhood that is what would happen if the two other neighborhoods came together. Ask participants to be prepared to explain how this happened.

Discuss and ask more questions. ( where are the jobs? Who is going to maintain these relationships?)

No ideal moment, Backwards design,
Team time (share additional resources)
Draw your projects.

Learning Objectives: Participants will form COPs around concrete steps towards achieving their community change goals.

Essential Question: What are we going to do? Who will we work with? How will our organization function? What is our mission statement? What will people in your organization be doing?

Activity: Time to be Strategists and planners. Assemble folks into groups based on region, school, organization, interest etc.

All of these folks will have shared their visions.

Have them backwards design a plan for their community and draw it in several forms.

Have them draw a “strategic plan (birds eye view)”

Draw a timeline

Draw a spider web of community partners and how they will work together to make your happy healthy systems.

Answer: What do you know how to do? What do you still need to learn how to do? WHat do you need to figure out?

Outcomes: Participants will come away with a plan and a visual representing their ideas.

Take homes reflection and sharing of projects
Share projects with groups and learn from one and other.
Share info on communities of practice and resources that you are aware of. Pressure the groups to start their work before they leave NOLA.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sprouting Cultural Heritage at OSBG





In the past week at OSBG we have watched 40 Mirliton plants sprout in our classroom. We planted the 40 wrinkely pear like fruit in tubs with sand, coffee grounds and our very own compost and worm castings. We watered them one time only. The mitlitons need very little care initially because the fruit provides all of the nutrients to the plants and because our climate is just perfect for the fruit. 5o years ago one could imagine mirliton growing along fences in the Lower 9th ward as a staple food in the culture. Stuffed mirliton is a holiday treat!


We were given the mirlitons by Lance Hill along with a valuable history of mirliton also know as chayote. You can read up more on mirliton at http://www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org/uploads/file/A_Guide_to_Growing_Mirlitons.pdf
and you can get mirliton for your own garden and to support and preserve Louisiana cultural heritage through the adopt-a-mirliton program listed in the guide.



Our mirliton are Louisiana heirloom variety. Heirloom means that the variety dates back and has remained uncontaminated or cross breaded since before Genetically Modified foods arrived. Mirliton is cultivated all over the world and especially in warm climates. Most of the old folks in our neighborhood know family recipes for the fruit and have memories of the plants growing in their yards. We hope to continue and reinvigorate our local mirliton growing and support our Louisiana cultural heritage through our work with this unique plant.

Happy growing!


Friday, January 7, 2011

Sprouting Young Leaders in the Lower Ninth Ward


Our School at Blair Grocery is featured in the current (Winter 2011) issue of the magazine Edible New Orleans. The full text of the article is below, but for the article complete with some really great pictures, pick up a copy at locations throughout New Orleans, or check out the online edition HERE (we're on page 13). Enjoy!



OUR SCHOOL AT BLAIR GROCERY: Sprouting Young Leaders in the Lower 9th Ward
By Matt Davis
Photographs by Andy Cook
"Basically, I just love this place way too much to ever leave," says 16-year-old Anthony Johnson, a young man from the Lower Ninth Ward who has recently started working at Our School at Blair Grocery.
He's standing on a vegetable plot inside a wire fence on the corner of Benton and Roman streets in the Lower Nine. As Johnson points to a three-foot-tall basil bush, some children who look at most ten years old ride past on their bikes. One of them shouts an expletive before rounding the corner out of sight.
"That's the local gang," Johnson says. "They're a bunch of kids that want to run around with guns and terrorize people. They come by, and they just start stuff, but that's what I like about this place – while you're inside this fence, they respect every single person."
Standing over six feet and 200 pounds, Johnson admits that his size, coupled with the fact that there are very few work opportunities for kids like him, means he could easily get into trouble without something to do after school. Instead, he is one of a dozen Lower Nine kids who now come to Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG) five days a week, working eight hours for $50.
The progressive experiential learning school is a nonprofit founded last year by former New York schoolteacher Nat Turner. Five high school students learn full-time at the school during the day and about a dozen, including Johnson, come for the after-school program. The school also has a relationship with the New York 2 New Orleans Coalition, a youth-led organization that brought OSBG 400 high school and college volunteers over the course of last summer.
With its six worm composting bins, newly installed aquaculture pool and piles of fresh produce, OSBG is hardly your typical school, but then, Turner is hardly your typical schoolteacher. In the months after Hurricane Katrina, he drove busloads of New York students to New Orleans to help with reconstruction. And he mentions something about taking another group of students to Cuba. "But on the advice of my attorney, I probably shouldn't talk much more about that," he laughs.
Instead, Turner talks about the theories of Amartya Sen, an Indian-born Cambridge economist who won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Economic Science with his theory that "development is freedom." "Sen asked the question, 'how do we provide opportunities to meet our resource needs with dignity?'" Turner says.


Our School at Blair Grocery is Turner's answer to that question. Funded for the time being by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the USDA's Community Food Project, the nonprofit is working to provide high school children in the Lower Ninth Ward with a source of education and wages without forcing them to learn harsher economic and social lessons on the street.

The school inhabits a grocery store and house once owned by the Blair Family. The Blairs raised six kids, all of whom went on to build successful careers.
"One of them was a rocket scientist," Johnson explains on a tour of the school. "And now we're all here, just like a family." Upstairs in the house, farm manager and teacher Brennan Dougherty has made quesadillas for Johnson and five other high school kids. There are tomatoes from Hollygrove Market, and a big bowl of fresh-picked sprouts.
The sprouts are OSBG's secret weapon in the fight to decrease its dependency on grant funding and attain financial self-sufficiency. After lunch, Johnson shows off some of the sprouts in one of the school's three greenhouses–there are purple radish sprouts, Thai pea shoots, and sunflower sprouts in neat rows, growing in rectangular pots like lettuce. He looks up to make a disclosure, something he's been holding back.

"We sold $1500 worth of sprouts last week," Johnson says. His eyes sparkle.
The Blair School team first grew sprouts early last summer and shopped their harvest around to restaurants in the French Quarter and along Magazine Street. "None of us had ever sold vegetables before," says OSBG teacher and food justice coordinator Cory Ashby. "It was me or another staff member and some teenagers with a cooler walking around and knocking on the back doors of restaurants, meeting with chefs."
Over time, the school developed relationships with many high-end restaurants in town. "We were one of the first in town they approached," says Chef Eric LaBouchere at the Martinique Bistro on Magazine Street. "We turned them on to half the restaurants in town." Today, for between $2 an $5 an ounce, the OSBG team sells their sprouts to 15 of New Orleans' most prestigious restaurants, including Boucherie, Cochon, Coquette, Emeril's, and several of the Besh restaurants.
The sprouts, very young plants, are "almost like a new herb," La Bouchere explains. At Martinique, they add a flavorful crunch to many of the restaurant's elegant French-Caribbean dishes, like seared scallops with a Yuzu champagne beurre blanc or a pan-roasted Florida Grouper with a shellfish beurre noisette. And, of course, LaBouchere says, "This stuff isn't cheap, because of the yield. You think about one little sprout. The energy that goes into producing it is a lot."
If the sprouts are OSBG's most lucrative crop, they are also one of the school's most important learning tools. In addition to conventional lessons in English and Math, students from Our School spend time seeding and harvesting the sprouts. They take economics classes, looking at how much it has cost to grow the sprouts and how much it will cost to market and distribute them. Then they go on "sprout runs." "They're out at John Besh's restaurant, talking about their product," Turner says. "This is what separates good education from mediocre education."
Ashby emphasizes that the sprouts business is the engine that allows OSBG to continue its work creating opportunities for young people in the Lower Ninth Ward. "Some people will say, 'If you're about increasing food access, why are you selling to high end restaurants?'" he says. "Our mission is to create a resource-rich, safe space for youth empowerment and sustainable community development. Our sprouts business is, in itself, a learning opportunity for our students, and, by funding the stipends for our after-school job program, it's opening up more opportunities for young people in the neighborhood."
Another much-needed addition to the neighborhood is the farmers' market that OSBG holds every Sunday afternoon. Besides this market, the only source for healthy food in the Lower Nine is a corner store where the vegetable selection is limited and expensive, with tomatoes, for example, selling for as much as $4 per pound. At OSBG, by contrast, neighborhood residents can buy tomatoes for as little as $2 per pound, and other freshly picked veggies at prices competitive with those at Winn Dixie.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Saints fullback reserve Marcus Mailei dropped by the market, still on crutches after knee surgery. Johnson knew Mailei from church, and had asked him to come down and show some support.
"I just saw that movie Food, Inc.," Mailei said. "It made me think I should start looking at this organic stuff."
As several younger kids crowded round for a picture, Mailei bought some basil, a squash, some satsumas and a cucumber from Johnson, who weighed the produce out for him, and mentioned that the school could also put together a box of produce in the future. Mailei said he might take Johnson up on that.
"I'm just going to put it on the table for my wife, and [be] like, 'work your magic,'" Mailei said, as Johnson helped him walk back to his car.
Magic, indeed.

Adelphi College Comes to OSBG





December Brigades at Our School as Blair Grocery This week two groups of young people are staying at the school. The first group to arrive was the often-present New York 2 New Orleans Coalition, a high-school aged group consisting of students from all across New York City. The second to arrive was a Disaster Politics class from Adelphi University in Long Island, New York. The young people during this time are integrated into life at OSBG, assisting with physical work on the farm in the morning, cooking and eating along side staff and interns, and interacting and engaging the youth from around the neighborhood. The most integral component of these trips, however, takes place in the afternoon and evenings, when the groups partake in workshops and formatted discussions. These workshops address issues such as Environmental Justice, understanding racism and sexism, developing skills in upstream problem solving, defining roles within movements, and many other related topics. An effort to enhance the experiences of participants through these activities arose from many years of analysis concerning what exactly makes civic engagement trips transformative and worthwhile. These workshops attempt to scaffold a process by which we can all develop our understandings of the multi-faceted issues facing the city of New Orleans, the U.S., and the world. The organizers of these trips hope to make a greatest impact on the work of OSBG through this paradigm shifting and organizer training. The goal of these trips, bringing youth to witness the blatant discrimination and inter-locking social issues that effect the city of New Orleans, is and will be providing students with the understandings and skills to return home and be effective, visionary, and empowering members of their own communities.

Day Trip to Hammond, Louisiana This past Sunday the high school and college students staying at OSBG took a trip up to Hammond, Louisiana where Queen Afi has been working since the summer to transform her property into a healing center that will encompass the largest organic farm in the area. It was really shocking for those volunteers who worked with her on the summer to see the progress on the house where we stayed. This renovation is in an effort to make her facilities appropriate for more volunteers. During the workday our main project was to put up a fence around the portion of her land that will be transformed into an organic farm. We cleared out the natural barrier made of weeds and bushes that has been protecting the property for years. Then, students drilled holes in the ground and began to put up the fence. Hopefully, after one or two more visits, the fence will be finished and it will be safe to began working on planning and planting for the spring. Many of us got time to talk with Queen Afi, the owner and head of the project, about what she has been envisioning and what she needs to have done by student volunteers. She explained to us that she wants to keep renovating each home on the property so that students can use them this coming summer. She also discussed plans for shaping her organic farm like a woman’ s body, to represent and enhance fertility and the potential for growth and life within this space.