Insurgent Ecologies

Insurgent Ecologies is curated by Imani Jacqueline Brown & Shana M. griffin and organized by Antenna and the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University (“NOCGS”), with support from the Gulf South Open School, PUNCTUATE, & Tulane University’s Newcomb Art Department. This exhibition, public programing, and print project features 45 artists and initiatives and stems from transdisciplinary collaborations nested within the Mississippi Open School for Kinship and Social Exchange and the international Anthropocene Commons project. The exhibit spans two venues, Antenna Gallery and 3OneOne6, and opens Friday-Sunday from 12PM-5PM

The exhibition engages artwork, projects, and collaborative initiatives across the Mississippi watershed that disrupt systems of racial enslavement, coloniality, displacement, and industrial encroachment, which rupture space-time to form a “continuum of extractivism.” Insurgent Ecologies interrogate common assumptions and false solutions while imagining new ecologies that can repair the violence of the “plantationocene”.

This project is also part of the The Mississippi River Open School for Kinship and Social Exchange (2022-2024); an expansive educational and research collaboration through the formation of five river hubs spanning the river’s headwaters to the Gulf. The Open School engages pressing issues at the intersections of race, environment, and extraction through education, cultural exchange, and action.

The Gulf South Open School (GSOS) comprises six organization-based projects in this region. They are the following: Civic Studio (Katie Fronek and Aron Chang), PUNCTUATE (Shana M. griffin), New Orleans Center for the Gulf South (Rebecca Snedeker and Denise Frazier), Dillard University (Amy Lesen), Land Memory Bank and Seed Exchange (Monique Verdin), and Antenna (Monica Mejia Restrepo).

Edible New Orleans 2014

As an amateur archivist, I am always eyeing materials to consider which should be brought home and stored for later research. I knew when I saw this first issue of the new Edible magazine in 2014, that this was a keeper.

Take a look at the Table of Contents and the ideas and names of this short-lived (?) magazine’s inaugural issue (bittersweet to see the late @christylorio with a byline)

Book review: Kuni: A Japanese Vision and Practice for Urban-Rural Connection

Over the weekend, I cracked open the just published “Kuni: A Japanese Vision and Practice for Urban-Rural Connection” authored by Tsuyoshi Sekihara and Richard McCarthy.

Sekihara is the founder and leader of the RMO (Regional Management Organization) Kamiechigo Yamagata Fan Club. This entity is tasked with creating kuni (community) in an estimated 25 villages in rural Japan.

McCarthy was the founder of the regional organization Market Umbrella which is headquartered in New Orleans LA, and (while he and I worked there) had set its farmers market region as “Gator Alley” or “Gumbo Nation” along the Gulf Coast, a name that came to us via our brilliant pal Poppy Tooker and her cohort of 1990/2000 RAFT leaders. In true U.S. fashion, neither description were precise to the entire region where our organization worked (as McCarthy describes it, it was “light and loose as compared to Sekihara’s grounded region”) but even so those food based regional descriptions came close enough for us to not be typecast as urban or rural or some other designation that didn’t fit at all.

Sekihara’s RMO is tasked with creating Kuni’s preconditions and is partially funded by overseeing government projects as well as creating products that can be exported (although the raw materials must originate from within the RMO.) There are other RMOs in Japan, but none with the depth of the KYFC. (It may also be helpful to share that fan clubs like KYFC are common in Japanese society for all types of organizations including corporations, many with their own mascots.)

By having McCarthy as the co-author, the application of Sekihara’s ideas can be illustrated in the hundreds of communities that McCarthy has worked or visited via his work with Market Umbrella, Slow Food US, Slow Food International, or his own current global Think Like Pirates firm. Kuni approach allows for true resource sharing because there there are rules to how you apply it.

A Kuni must:

Be compact but contain all of the elements needed for human life

Have the right scale

Balance between bridging and bonding activities

Choose pluralism over tribalism

Be close to nature

If one applies this set of rules to American organizing, say in the “local” food system where I work, one can see how quickly we’d not meet them. For example, the food system work rarely thinks about energy use; scale is another problem, in that our partners we work with think our scale isn’t “large enough” which we just shrug away rather than challenging it.

Based on that, there are those that will say this idea could only work in Japan which may very well be true, but like any visionary idea it may still be worth the try.

What if we did organize food systems in collaboration with climate scientists and reparation efforts and universal health care work, utility reformers and literacy activists?

What if we drew the radius of food systems around the elements needed and near wildlife?

What if we bridged urban with rural with benefits in all directions?

What if we found multiple ways to bond with those that we don’t have family ties or cultural history?

What if we accepted that we could call more than one place home?

What if we didn’t expect Government to be the only one to answer for our infrastructure needs?

The book is rich with lists of lessons and examples for any organizer including the brilliant Rice Covenant (which is more complex than you’d think), place polygamy, the concept of equilibrium, circularity, and spirals, the 2 Loops theory, Richard’s pirate ship metaphor, examples of Kuni-style organizing from around the world, and (a personal favorite of mine), explanations from both leaders as to why holding onto single proxies such as “local” or relying on national or global certifications can be entirely too limiting.

It’s available everywhere.

Naming the Goal: Pontchartrain Basin Agricultural Network

The Lake Pontchartrain Basin is a 10,000 square mile watershed encompassing 16 Louisiana parishes. The land use of the region is both rural and urban.  It is the most densely populated region in Louisiana, including metro New Orleans and the state capital, Baton Rouge.  The Basin is one of the largest estuarine systems in the Gulf of Mexico and contains over 22 essential habitats and numerous rare plants. 

Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation website

For a region known for its legendary food,  southeastern Louisiana’s direct marketing farming production remains shockingly sparse and largely disconnected. For example, New Orleans has a majority African-American population and longstanding Central American and Vietnamese communities, yet has few successful production farmers that serve or who come from those communities. The Native American/indigenous population continues to protect the land but is not given enough direct support to lead the way. The city of New Orleans hosts fewer than a half-dozen regularly scheduled farmers markets and has few sustained sites or support for encouraging or brokering intermediate (small grocers, family restaurants, and food box programs) sales for direct marketing farmers. Few multi-generational farms exist in the region, partly due to the heavy emphasis on commodity production via plantation-style farming. Lastly, the region lacks long-term networks and funding of support around training, marketing, and education for farmers and for food shoppers. The increasing fragility of the entire Gulf Coast is partly to blame, as is the overdevelopment of the productive land in the parishes across the watershed.

By establishing the Pontchartrain Basin Agricultural Network (PBAR) as a valuable and unique initiative, we can increase support for regionally grown food by connecting the entrepreneurial activity within the regional food system to climate change initiatives in the Gulf Coast.

This idea was born from the work many have done over the last 20+ years in and around New Orleans. I hope to see the network included in plans and funding that are mitigating climate instability and supporting entrepreneurs and residents in being better stewards of our place. How we expect to begin:

1. To build the Pontchartrain Basin Ag Network WordPress site with a focus on mapping production and case studies, interviews, and news stories of any strong climate and food work in the region.

2. To lend support to direct to consumer farms or outlets through technical assistance or resource development for mitigating climate events on their businesses.

Feel free to get in touch with me via this site if you have suggestions or comments about the PBAR idea.

1970-2010 Timeline

Community-based initiatives and businesses that contributed to the regional food and farming sector in and around New Orleans during this era. Have something to add or correct? Please let me know.

-The Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (MAC) was established in 1972 as an affiliate of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (1967). Farmers like 4th generation Ben Burkett in Petal, Mississippi fostered collective action and justice work through entities like MAC, the Indian Springs Farmers Association and through farming the land and sharing  knowledge. The Burketts continue that work today, with daughter Darnella now also working statewide and nationally while farming her own land and raising her daughter to be the next generation of activist in the family.

-1972: Buying clubs form, including the Robert Street Co-op, Marengo Street Co-op, Cohn Street Co-op
(From Robert Thompson, longtime activist): The residents of the house included other Tulane students Steve Samuels and Rick Moss. A buyer went to the French Market and bought seasonal stuff, and was arranged like a store with buyers circulating around buying what they wanted. Liz and I worked the cash register each week. Afterwards a guy from the Marengo St commune would come and buy up all the remaining food. This coop functioned during the school year. In summertime, the student members left, and those of us who lived here would combine efforts at the coop on Cohn Street. The serious player there was an acquaintance named Armand Jonte. He was later a chef at Gautreaux’s I think. Last I heard he moved to Gulf Coast. I wish I could recall more about him. Seems like there were a couple of roommates with him on Cohn… But Armond (was in my mind) the soul of the Cohn St Coop. There was always talk of a storefront and I think by the second summer they made the move from Cohn Street to the building by the cemetery.”

-1974: Lee Barnes Cooking School opens

-1974: Hare Krishna Community (ISKON) purchases land in Mississippi for farm named New Talavan

-October 1974 : Opening of Whole Food Company at 7700 Cohen, New Orleans. Its mission was to be a grocery store featuring good, wholesome food. Sales doubled each year for the first four years. By 1978, the store (only 1100 square feet) was doing more than $1 million per year. Success was fueled by a committed staff who were all stockholders in the company. (From WFM corporate history)

-1981: Opening of Whole Food Company, Esplanade Avenue. WFC became the largest outside customer of Texas Health Distributors, the wholesale division of Whole Foods Market. (From WFM corporate history)

1984: All Natural Foods opens on Magazine Street. Operated by Michael Zarou, closed in 2003.

-1987: Eve’s Market opens, founded by Linda K. Van Aman and Claudia Dumestre. Eve’s was first located at the original Whole Food Company location at 7700 Cohn and then moved to Freret in 2001 after the landlord sold the building.  Closed after Katrina. Link to Linda’s recounting of the development of Eve’s Market.

-1988: Purchase of Whole Food Company by Texas company Whole Foods Market. According to WFM corporate history, in May of 1988, the Esplanade store became the sixth Whole Foods Market.

-(1994) First Parkway Partners Community Garden opens
According to the PP website, the organization was founded in 1982 in response to massive budget cuts to the New Orleans Department of Parks and Parkways. Parkway Partners began its work by adopting out neutral grounds to citizens for maintenance.

PP Community Garden Directors: Kris Pottharst, Donna Cavato, Max Elliot, Hilairie Schackai, Macon Fry, Mario Taravello, Renee Allie, Susannah Bridges Burley…

Kris Pottharst identified the first new garden location for the Community Garden Project as being on Alvar Street, although existing gardens had also been added to the project. By 1995, the project identified 25 gardens as part of their network and that it had geown from “from 0 to 45+ garden sites within two years. Pre-Katrina, program featured almost 200 community gardens and was one of the largest programs of its kind in the country” (Kris Pottharst)



1995 garden for Dwight Mikey Stewart who killed July 19, 1994 by stray bullets which is part of the Community Garden Program of the Parkway and Park Commission. The garden is located at 3300 2nd street.

from a Jarvis Debeery 2010 column:

.. I’m standing in “Mikey’s Garden,” a small lot that was announced as a blooming reminder of a life cut short but has become just one more overgrown, unsightly mess. A man pedaling along Second Street asks me if my presence means the grass is about to be cut. Does he want the garden fixed up so passers-by can remember it as the site where an innocent little boy was killed? No. He wants it cut because, he explains, he can’t see cars approaching on Johnson if he’s riding on Second. Mims is disgusted at the state of the park and what he thinks it symbolizes: a city that raises its voice in anger and anguish when a child is slain, marks the spot in an act of remembrance and then forgets.


-1995: Crescent City Farmers Market at 700 Magazine opens. The market organization is housed at the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice at Loyola University New Orleans by Blueprint for Justice editor Richard McCarthy and local activists John Abajian and Sharon Litwin.

-1996: Cafe Reconcile is founded on Oretha Castle Haley, opening as restaurant in (yr?)

-1996: Founding of Red Stick and Covington Farmers Markets

-1997: Chef Susan Spicer opens Spice Inc. “take-out food, bakery, and cooking classes. This became “Wild Flour Breads”, which is co-owned with Sandy Whann.” (Wikipedia)

-1999: Slow Food New Orleans chapter is founded, formed by Poppy Tooker. (Chowhound)

-2000(?): The Vintage Garden Farm @ ARC is founded. Later becomes the first certified organic farm in city.

-2001: Chef Anne Churchill does farm-to-table pop ups at Bridge Lounge.

-2001: Downtown Neighborhood Market Consortium formed by Greta Gladney to add farmers markets in 9th ward.

-2002: Food Not Bombs New Orleans founded. Started by Paul Gailiunas and Helen Hill after moving to the city in 2000 after working with FNB in Halifax Nova Scotia. It is a non-profit, volunteer run organization dedicated to providing free vegetarian meals to the local community, started as an anti-nuclear action against the Seabrook, New Hampshire Power Plant in 1980. “…I remember working with Helen Hill and “Food not Bombs,” and St. Joseph’s church about 20 years ago to redirect edible food “waste” from Whole Foods. Winn Dixie wouldn’t participate, instead they opted to crush their unsightly produce out back of their grocery. (social media post from artist Michel Varisco)

-2002: New Orleans Food and Farming Network founded. It was created by Jeanette Abi-Nader, Max Elliot, Anna Maria Signorelli, and Marilyn Yank joined by local activists Jeanette Bell, Pam Broom, Macon Fry, Ed Melendez, Kathy Parry, Hilairie Schackai, and Dar Wolnik.

-2002: New Orleans Food Cooperative is formed (storefront did not open until 2011.) The first meeting was held on 11/11/2002 and had 22 people attending and was hosted by John Calhoun.

-2002: Opening of Whole Foods Market, Arabella Station
In 2002 Whole Foods built a 28,000-square-foot store in an Uptown New Orleans location presenting New Orleanians with the reality that Whole Foods is not a small co-op or local store but a national corporation that is seeking expansion.

-2003: Jeanette Bell founds Fleur D’Eden Garden on Baronne, composed of an English Rose garden, a kitchen garden and an herb garden.  Mississippi-born Jeanette had moved to New Orleans after living in Detroit where she had founded Bell Floricultural Service in 1980.

-2004: ECOnomics Institute, the parent organization of Crescent City Farmers Markets creates the White Boot Brigade, a pop-up shrimpers market held at the height of the season. The goal was to protect the livelihoods of wild harvest fishers in the Greater New Orleans’ coastal waters from the onslaught of farm-raised seafood imports and natural and industrial disasters.

-2005: Closing of Whole Foods Market, Esplanade
In May of 2005, Whole Foods opens another large store, a 52,000-square-foot store in Metairie, announcing it will close the small Mid-City store in April of 2005. (UNO thesis, Nicole Taylor)

-2005: Opening of Savvy Gourmet on Magazine. This storefront served as a local purchasing hub for chefs after Katrina and a meeting place for food and farming work.

-2005 Laughing Buddha Nursery opens in Metairie; the first permaculture retail store in area.

-2005: Anne Churchill forms the Delicious.  A cooperative kitchen at her commercial space in Bywater where other entrepreneurs were invited to create their products and build businesses.

-2007: Opening of Satsuma Café in Bywater. Possibly the first casual dining restaurants with a locally-sourced ingredient focus.

-2007: Mary Queen of Vietnam  (MQVN)’s Viet Village Urban Farm project begins. Overseen by MQVN’s Father Vien Nguyen and Mary Tran MQVNCDC Director.

-2007: Development of Inglewood Farm, Alexandria

-2008: Opening of Hollygrove Farm. The farm, on the site of a previous commercial nursery is founded by Paul Baricos of Hollygrove CDC and Kris Pottharst, then head of New Orleans Food and Farm Network.

-2008: Announcement of Jack and Jake’s Food Hub

-2008: Sankofa CDC forms farmers market in 9th ward.

-2008: Little Sparrow Farm opens, becoming one of the first “microfarms” in the city. LSF was designed by its founder Marilyn Yank to serve as a demonstration site of the potential of single lot farming, to offer produce for sale to individuals and to intermediate outlets (restaurants/corner stores), and to set a standard for beautification of an empty lot for the recovering area.

-2008: Our School at Blair Grocery by Nat Turner forms

-2009: Backyard Gardeners Network is founded by Jenga Mwendo.

Our Vietnamese community, circa 2007


An essay I wrote soon after the storm about the amazing NO East Vietnamese community.

Turn off Grande Route St. John on to Gentilly Boulevard. Pass the Fairgrounds, the Bike Plus place on Paris, the Gentilly Terrace area with so many beautiful arts and crafts homes of upper middle class Creoles, then quiet Dillard University on the left, empty strip malls galore, (basically you follow old 90 the way your grandparents would when going to the North Shore and Biloxi) and then you pass under I-10 and you are really on Chef Menteur Highway.
Chef (as we call it, not really affectionately, more as an affectation of our parents word for it), is a mix of auto repair shops, small bedroom communities and as you near the Michoud plant, the Vietnamese community.

Have you been to the Vietnamese community in New Orleans east? Haven’t been? Not surprising, most have not, and asking them to get in the car at 6:00 am to go is too bizarre to even suggest. So, some never experience it.

Amazing. I started venturing out 4 years ago, when my work at the farmers market coincided with seeing it. Actually, Robert and Elizabeth of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse took me there first, and like so many New Orleanians-by – choice (aka not born here); they know the city very well. They explore every corner and have done so since the late 60s.
They drove me out there one morning about 6 a.m. and showed me the gardens that ring the canals, the houses with elaborate statuary in front and sports cars for the children in the driveway. We had Vietnamese coffee, wonderful. Strong and sweet. They explained the history of this settlement that has been built by the Catholic Church since the fall of Saigon, with a larger Buddhist community on the West Bank.

For me, the open market was the most fascinating part. Set up alongside storefronts on Alcee Fortier Boulevard (not much of a boulevard, and not sure anyone out here knows this historian from the early 20th century), it is a walk through another country.
Farmers and fishers stand or squat in front of their products that are unfamiliar to most Americans. Once in a while, you spot cilantro or water spinach or something else appetizing and fragrant, and then point and ask for a price. Everything is between 1.00 and 2.00. You walk slowly into the interior courtyard, looking at every display and listening to the life around you that could be 300 years past. At 7:00 a.m. the market kicks into overdrive with the mass attendees mingling with the less devout.

The nearby storefronts also need time from you; the mangoes, noodles, dried mushrooms are there alongside of sweets and unfamiliar sauces on the crowded shelves. My friend, Veda loves all grocery stores since her early years in her family corner stores; she can be here for hours and when they talk to her, it’s clear that they see a kindred food soul and give her incredible discounts. We always stop at the storefront with no signs or ambience in the middle of the market for the Vietnamese “poboy”; their sandwich that is a taste and texture treat, with pork, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, peppers, sauce. We buy 5-10 sandwiches to bring back and share with anyone we think deserves one. They always are amazed and delighted after eating the half or quarter we share with each.

Most outsiders and locals that venture here go to the bakery, Dong Phuong. Pork and water chestnut pastries, glorious bread (baked hourly), cinnamon rolls to take home. I have a calendar on my wall from there that I look at when at the computer; always makes me think of the homemade egg breads.

The levee breaks did their damage out there. But, true to their immigrant attitudes, they have begun rebuilding at an astounding rate. Their dynamic Catholic priest, Father Vien travels to Houston often to see his parishioners that have not shown up yet at Mary, Queen of Vietnam Church. He has big plans for Viet Town, and will take the time to tell anyone who can possibly help. We were invited for lunch with the staff at the church to talk; the priest has an energetic, can-do presence that one can believe in. He is ready to create this beacon of light for the region to see and draw from.
We’re there that day because my boss is a true believer in the power of markets and local economies to rebuild a world. He has been interested in making a bridge between our Italian, Croatian, French, Southern farmers world and this one for some time. He also understands that it is a genuinely exciting time to live in New Orleans, in between the heartbreak and exhaustion, if one can make things happen.
It occurs to me while listening to them that these two could end up being the fulcrum in lives of hundreds of families in the next 5 years.
They talk of small and big ideas, but mostly they talk about helping small entrepreneurs get back in first gear. They agree on sensible methods and partners and take their leave as if they were two musicians that have finished rehearsing for their big break. Understand each other’s rhythm and syncopation. Got it. Turns out funders are liking what they hear from these two, and are almost ready to put up. Big money to leverage small communities. Big ideas to let farmers get back to bringing that bitter melon to Alcee Fortier. Rebuild without city, state or (cough) federal help or awareness for the most part. We’ll be back out here many times.

All because of food.

( Vietnamese patriarch Father Vien shared a history in a video that I did for MarketUmbrella in 2009):

Parkway Partners says goodbye

With Appreciation to Our Friends, Supporters and Partners
November 12, 2019

Dear Friends, Supporters, and Partners,

Founded more than 35 years ago by Flo Schornstein when she was Director of the City of New Orleans Department of Parks and Parkways, Parkway Partners has educated and empowered residents to improve the quality of life in New Orleans through the preservation, maintenance and beautification of neutral grounds, green spaces, playgrounds, parks, community gardens and the urban forest.

The Parkway Partners legacy is influential and robust. With you, our friends, supporters and

partners, we have laid the foundation for environmental responsibility and raised awareness of green education. These are vital components of a healthy, livable and sustainable community and the framework for a vibrant economic development future for New Orleans. Our work has become a national model for similar public/private partnerships that now flourish in communities around the country.

In conjunction with our partner, the City’s Department of Parks and Parkways, we are pleased to announce two final Parkway Partners urban canopy projects. Parkway Partners will provide trees for planting along two historic New Orleans locations: the Broad Street corridor and Armstrong Park.

Although our core mission remains a relevant force for and advocate of green space and trees in our community, the board has made the difficult but appropriate decision to conclude our organization’s services and programs. Our records will be housed at the Tulane University Archive, forming the Parkway Partners Collection. Our records will be available to inform future urban landscape preservation and other research.

From the beginning, the people of New Orleans overwhelmingly responded to our mission with encouragement, collaboration, contributions and volunteer hours. We extend a heartfelt thank you to all who have worked to make certain our mission was realized.

On Behalf of the Parkway Partners Board of Directors


Michael Karam

Michael Karam, President

Lindsey Labadie, Vice President

Beth Terry, Treasurer

Nathan Lott, Secretary

Flo W. Schornstein, Founder

Marjorie Esman

Denise Estopinal

Norma Grace

Beverly Katz

Ann E. Macdonald

Linda Newton

Kristi Trail