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.

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

CFSC National Conference: October 16-19, 2010

Short Courses and Field Trips

Friday, October 15

9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Trip: Outlaw Local Food? I don’t think so!(FULL)
11:00 am – Sat.
Trip: Returning to Our Roots: A Cajun Experience
12:00 – 4:00 pm
Trip: Revitalizing Main Street with Food (FULL)
4:00 – 6:30 pm
Course: Field Guide to Evaluation, Part I

Saturday, October 16

7:00 am – 6:00 pm
Trip: Cooperation is the Name of the Game
7:30 am – 12:00 pm
Trip: Food Deserts, Food Swamps & Food Access (FULL)
8:30 am – 4:30 pm
Trip: Fisheries, Food, and Environmental Justice
8:30 am – 4:30 pm
Trip: Lower Ninth Ward Food Projects
8:30 am – 12:30 pm
Course: Food Policy Councils: Getting Started, Moving Forward (FULL)
8:30 am – 12:30 pm
Course: Growing Urban Agriculture Through Policy Change
9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Course: Food Safety and Liability Insurance Issues
9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Course: Field Guide to Evaluation, Part II
1:30 – 5:30 pm
Trip: NOLA Urban Agriculture
1:30 – 5:30 pm
Trip: Growing Healthy Kids in New Orleans Schools
1:30 – 5:30 pm
Course: Food Policy Impacts

Field Guide to Evaluation

Jeanette Abi-Nader, CFSC
Michelle Kobayashi, National Research Center, Inc.

Amber Baker, Janus Youth Programs
Eca-Etabo Wasongolo, Janus Youth Programs

FRIDAY 10/15, 4:00 PM – 6:30 PM & SATURDAY 10/16, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

COST: $95.00

(cost includes Lunch and CFP Evaluation Handbook and Toolkit and TOOLS Only CD)

A comprehensive two-day intensive focused on outcome-based evaluation strategies, tools and analysis designed expressly for Community Food Project (CFP) grantees and other CFP practitioners. Come learn how to tell the story of your work’s impact. Trainers will focus on all stages of program evaluation and include innovative evaluation strategies and learning tools.

Food Safety and Liability Insurance Issues for Marketing to Institutions

Kristen Markley, Community Food Security Coalition
David Runsten, Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Steve Warshawer, Wallace Center/National Good Food Network
Glyen Holmes, New North Florida Cooperative
Christy Cook, Sustainability Support Sodexo
Vonda Richardson, Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension Programs
Cheryl Wixson, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Jennifer Hashley, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

SATURDAY 10/16, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM


This course will detail the findings of a CFSC project funded by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) regarding food safety and liability insurance barriers and possible solutions for producers marketing to local schools, colleges, and other institutions. Attendees will increase their knowledge of food safety standards developed by organizations representing limited resource farmers and learn what’s happening at the national level around food safety policies. Attendees will leave with strategies for assisting farmers in their region in developing supportive structures and collaborative solutions for meeting food safety and liability insurance requirements. Join CFSC and RMA project partners (Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and New Entry Sustainable Farming Project) in exploring and strategizing creative methods for supporting farmers in addressing these challenging issues.

Growing Urban Agriculture through Policy Change

Betsy Johnson, CFSC Urban Agriculture Committee Co-Chair
Cynthia Price, CFSC Urban Agriculture Committee Co-Chair
Martin Bailkey, Dane County Food Policy Council
Katherine Kelly, Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture
Megan Lott, CFSC
J.P. Muhly, Baltimore, MD
Andrea Petzel, City of Seattle
John Shaffer, The University of Memphis

SATURDAY 10/16, 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM

COST: $35.00

This course will offer background information, case studies, policy status updates, and a wide variety of tools (from assessments to customizable materials to make one’s case) to help participants support and foster policy that encourages urban agriculture at the Federal, state, and local levels. Attendees are encouraged to attend the “New Orleans Urban Agriculture” field trip in the afternoon.

Food Policy Councils: Getting Started, Moving Forward (Food Policy Part I) (FULL)

Mark Winne, CFSC
Cindy Torres, Boulder County Farmers’ Market Association

SATURDAY 10/16, 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM

COST: $35.00

Community food security practitioners are developing local and state food policy organizations – councils, networks, coalitions – across North America to coordinate their food system stakeholders and to influence food policy. The course will engage participants in a series of activities designed to increase their ability to organize and manage local/state food policy organizations. Attendees are encouraged to attend the “Making Food Policy Impacts” course in the afternoon.

Food Policy Impacts: Making the case for Healthy Economies and Healthy People (Food Policy Part II)

Ken Meter, Crossroads Resource Center
Sarah Hackney, Gorge Grown Food Network
Zoraya Bernadete Souza, Brazil
Sarah Franklin
Kathryn Strickland, North Alabama Food Co-operative
Regi Haslett-Marroquin, Rural Enterprise Center

SATURDAY 10/16, 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM

COST: $35.00

Community foods initiatives that are savvy about their local economy gain greater strength, because economics is often the basis for policy. This workshop highlights success stories from U.S. communities where local economic initiatives made impact. Visionary food and health policies adopted by cities in Brazil will also be featured. Attendees are encouraged to attend the “Food Policy Councils” course in the morning.

Returning to Our Roots: A Cajun Experience

11:00 AM FRIDAY 10/15 – 4:00 PM SATURDAY 10/16 (OVERNIGHT)


Since the mid-1700s, the Acadians have made their home in the area around the Atchafalaya River and developed one of America’s unique cuisines. Cajun food developed here, growing out of the bounty of the bayous and the climate of the region. Join us on this tour to explore the history of Louisiana agriculture, tour bayous, and be immersed in Cajun Culture.

On Friday, the group will meet at the hotel and drive to Lafayette to visit the Gotreaux Family Farm, where a family of 12 is raising a large variety of crops from tilapia to turkeys.  Young farmers who are reinventing Louisiana agriculture will  discuss their innovative projects. After a great dinner at the LA Seafood Housefeaturing Gotreaux products, the group will head to downtown Lafayette for a live concert.

On Saturday, the trip will head to the Lafayette Hub City Farmers’ Market and then   visit with a family that has been on the same land since the first Acadians arrived at Brookshire Farm.  After a visit to EarthShare Gardens to see their exciting work, the group will tour the Acadiana Cultural Center and head back to New Orleans.

Outlaw Local Food? I don’t think so! (FULL)

FRIDAY 10/15, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM


Journey into the heart of Bayou country to visit the Fonseca family that started Outlaw Katfish on Bayou Des Allemandes and get an intimate view of fishing in Louisiana. The Fonseca family has been influential in both the marketing and policy changes that allow sustainable traditional fishers to succeed in bringing Louisiana seafood to resident’s tables. Lunch will be provided directly from the Bayou and followed by a visit to a fish market in the city where many Louisiana fishers sell their products.  Participants will learn first hand how the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is dramatically altering the livelihoods and culture of the region.

Revitalizing Main Street with Food: Tour of OC Haley Boulevard (FULL)

FRIDAY 10/15, 12:00 – 4:00 PM


In the last five years, parts of Central City have experienced major revitalization projects, many of which are focused on improving access to healthy food. This walking tour will start with lunch at Café Reconcile, a non-profit restaurant that trains youth from the community, providing them with the skills for a future in the culinary industry. We will also visit the New Orleans Missions, Latino Farmers Cooperative, and the Mahalia Jackson Children and Family Center.

Cooperation is the Name of the Game: the Mississippi Farmers Co-op

SATURDAY 10/16, 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM


The Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (MAC) is a successful model of local farmers collaborating to provide fresh produce, meat, and prepared foods to schools, grocery stores, and casinos, among other institutions. This group will meet with members of a seafood cooperative and travel to Indian Springs Cooperative to meet with Ben Burkett, Director of MAC, and farmers who are a part of MAC.

Food Deserts, Food Swamps & Food Access in Urban Communities (FULL)

SATURDAY 10/16, 7:30 AM – 12:00 PM

COST: $35

Learn about the history of food distribution and business ventures in New Orleans on this tour of grocery stores and markets. The group will visit the Crescent City Farmers Market; Angelo Brocato, a century-old Italian ice cream and pastry business for a tasty treat; Terranova’s Supermarket, a family-owned market and butcher shop established in 1925; Rouses, a local grocery store chain; Hollygrove Market & Farm, an urban garden that sells local produce and prepared foods; and Jack and Jake’s, the newest local and organic grocery store.

Fisheries, Food, and Environmental Justice in New Orleans East

SATURDAY 10/16, 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM


The largest urban wildlife sanctuary in the continental US is located in New Orleans East, a community under attack from environmental pollution. Beginning at the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, participants will see the Viet Village Urban Farm and discuss the creative ways this community is building a sustainable food system. The group will also visit nearby community and backyard gardens and stop at the Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery, a famous bakery that serves French and Vietnamese pastries.

Lower Ninth Ward Food Projects

SATURDAY 10/16, 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM


Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Guerrilla Garden, will lead a service project at her community garden and discuss food access projects in the Lower Ninth Ward. Participants will hear from the founders of the NOLA Food Co-op, a community owned grocery store opening in 2011, and tour the neighborhood see the efforts of many groups to rebuild a sustainable neighborhood.

NOLA Urban Agriculture

SATURDAY 10/16, 1:30 AM – 5:30 PM

COST: $35

With 66,000 acres of vacant land, urban agriculture is on the rise in New Orleans! Tour a variety of projects that are sprouting all over the city – Desire Street Ministries, Covenant Farms, Hollygrove Market & Farm, Little Sparrow, and Sun Harvest Kitchen, to name a few. Led by the New Orleans Food & Farm Network, the trip will illustrate how communities are working to improve access to healthy food.

Growing Healthy Kids in New Orleans Schools

SATURDAY 10/16, 1:30 AM – 5:30 PM

COST: $35

New Orleans schools are building gardens left and right. This tour will visit Dr. King Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward, Langston Hughes Academy Charter School in Mid-City, and the Edible Schoolyard in Uptown to see examples of school gardens. Participants will enjoy a cooking demonstration at Edible Schoolyard New Orleans and discuss the benefits of teaching kitchens in schools.


Continue reading “CFSC National Conference: October 16-19, 2010”

Maurice Ruffin’s “Taking of Freret”

From author Ruffin’s piece for Southern Foodways journal Gravy:


Darlene Wolnik talked to me about how what we eat has been altered. She explained how mirlitons represent my changing hometown. “Back when the city had hundreds of chain-link fences, mirliton vines thrived and could be found everywhere. Our grandparents stuffed shrimp in them and made it a holiday. Once those chain-link fences were torn down for high wooden walls, the mirliton had nothing to hang on and largely disappeared.” Darlene had pinpointed the connection between the choice of so many New Orleanians to build fences you could see through versus high-collared bulwarks to blot out the world. A desire to isolate killed the mirliton.

My grandparents’ house in the Lower Ninth Ward had chain-link fences, as did the houses of many of my aunts and uncles. They all included mirlitons in their toolbox of soul food ingredients. My parents and my mother-in-law also made great stuffed mirlitons, which looked like oversized green tulips crammed with a beef, shrimp, and vegetable dressing. Many an afternoon, I sat at their tables chomping on the savory, palm-sized treats. You could blindfold me, and I’d be able to tell you which oven they came from. My family scooped out the innards of the vegetable and stuffed it with a mix heavy on the beef, like hamburgers on a vegetable bun. My mother-in-law’s were based on her mother’s recipe. Their mirlitons were mostly breading and shrimp. Much more delicate than what I grew up on. I loved them all.


Look for Ruffin’s new book, due in January 2019


Oral History: Greta Gladney, Renaissance Project Founder

I did a series of oral interviews with local residents that I felt were exhibiting new ways to lead their community. I hoped to use these stories to shed light on how local people were leading the recovery as they fought the consolidation of power from corporations and government.

In the end, I was uncomfortable with the way that publishers wanted me to shape these interviews and so I used them more informally, sharing pieces with leaders and writers when they wanted to understand the grassroots power of the city. None have ever formally acknowledged the contribution of these stories to their work, although some clearly drew on them.

Many of these interviews focused on food and farming, as that was my focus before and after 2005. Greta Gladney is one person who has never received the credit she deserves in the work we share and so I asked her to share a little of that but even more so, share information on her extended family. 

“Family has shaped my work”: Interview with Greta Gladney, Executive Director of The Renaissance Project and 4th generation 9th ward resident.

Lower 9th ward.  So many world citizens heard about this neighborhood for the first time around August 31, 2005, and it must have seemed an antiquated, oddly political way to define one’s home. (9th ward? That’s their neighborhood name? You can just hear someone from Roxbury or from Clifton-upon-Dunsmore ask with confusion.) The Lower 9th ward was certainly politicized before the levee breaks. The area has been a center of neighborhood activism since its founding in the early part of the 20th century.  The digging of the Industrial Canal in 1923 put a literal gulf between the rest of New Orleans and the Lower 9, and that (along with the largely rural feel of the area) accentuated the fierce need for self- determination and identity that continues to this day.

A 4th generation resident, Greta had begun to make her name as the founder and Executive director of non-profit The Renaissance Project around 2001. Its mission is to improve the quality of life in the 9th ward, and Greta missed few opportunities to be in on any new idea that might help her neighborhood.

Upon returning to the city after the hurricane, she ran for mayor in a group of over a dozen candidates (she says) to keep the conversation focused on those underserved areas and people that were in danger of being swept away in the “ new” New Orleans politics of late 2005. She received 100 votes in the election (4 candidates received less votes than she with more money reportedly spent) and also received more awareness from media and leaders, which the soft-spoken, newly married 40-something mother of 3 (grandmother of 2!) parlays skillfully into more help for her organization and her neighbors at every turn.


Interview location: Borrowed apartment in French Quarter

Where did you grow up?

“I grew up on the corner of Lamanche and North Roman, that’s about a block away from what’s now Martin Luther King Elementary School, which had been another school named Macarty (home of Bush vs. Orleans Parish School Board; the legendary lawsuit that forced integration of two 9th ward schools in 1960), where my mom went to school and my grandmother taught.

So, the house I grew up in was my grandmother’s house. She and my mother bought it together, and my mother was living there up until the storm. I have lived in Lower 9 all but 3 years of my life, when I was New York City doing graduate study (was there from 99 until 2002, so have done two disasters in my life).  After I finished my M.B.A, I came back home.

I have always thought about travel and have traveled, but this was always home. My mother was actually born in a house on Gordon in the 9th ward, and had never lived anyplace else (until the levee breaks). My grandmother was born in St, Charles Parish in Des Allemandes, but spent most of her life with her mother and family in Lower 9.

It’s interesting to me, because I’ve seen the neighborhood transition over 40 years; working class neighborhood, strong work ethic, mixed socio-economic. In our two-block area we had renters, homeowners, duplexes. Everyone knew everybody; everybody kept their grass cut. We shopped on St. Claude and Claiborne; there were thrift stores, pharmacies that delivered, supermarkets, what’s now (or what was last) the Philadephia Apostolic Church on St. Claude, was an A&P.

When I was in New York and traveling while I was in school, I was always looking at other remote communities, and looking for strategies that would apply to the lower 9. One thing was the Greenmarkets in New York City. Union Square of course, and I lived in Brooklyn, so the one at Grand Army Plaza on Saturdays I went to a lot. It was exciting to me because everybody was there; it was multi-ethnic and inter-generational; it was a social event and lots of good food and flowers, and I thought it would be great for the 9th ward.

Did your family grow food?

It’s funny; when I bought my house, I closed on my house on my 30th birthday (May 13, 1994).  That November before when I went to see the house, there was mirliton growing all the way up the fence. I only saw the house the one time, made an offer on it and refused to go back ‘til I closed, and when I went back there were peach trees in the backyard and garlic growing.

My grandmother always grew okra, eggplant, parsley, bellpeppers, tomatoes…

She enjoyed gardening, and she’d try other things (just because I was curious) like carrots and broccoli.  She also grew those tiny peppers, you know really hot.

How was your work different after the storm?

When I returned after the storm, the work was the same-writing grants to get markets, working with the St. Claude Merchants Association, chasing down the state about getting the Main Street Project, (which was awarded in 2006).

What has changed really is access to Lower 9, since not much of anything is open (as of early 2007). To help Lower 9, I have to work farther up St. Claude and have it trickle down.

Pre-Katrina, we wanted to do two (farmers) markets on St. Claude, one below and one above the (Industrial) Canal to encourage people to cross the avenue, interact and help with economic development.

6 months later:

Have things changed since last year in your work to build the

9th ward?

I see the progress made by committed individuals to rebuild their homes and churches to return home. I see a unified Holy Cross Neighborhood Association that pre-storm was thought to be elitist serving the entire Lower Ninth Ward. I see organizations staying out of each others way because there’s more than enough work and good intentions to go around and no need to compete.

With respect to my work, it’s time to come home.

Living outside the 9th ward broadened my perspective as well as scope of work. I spent a year working on St. Claude Ave. Main Street thinking that it was good for the community. While I won’t say that it was a waste of my time, I will say that as a result of that experience, I am more aware that behavior is indicative of emotional and moral intelligence, more aware of how language and behavior betray race, class and gender issues and am less tolerant of people overall. No good deed goes unpunished. So my focus shifted for a few months and is returning to areas where I believe I can move forward.

 Tell me a little about your immediate family  and where they all are at this point.

My mother and I received our Road Home money and moved back into her house in late October. Ironically, and typical of bureaucratic red tape and miscommunication, her gas has remained on at the property for the past two years. When she had the property inspected, Entergy turned the gas off and put a lock on the meter. A couple of days later, a technician returned to the property and took the meter. My mom called and was told that gas was not available in her area.

So my mother, second daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter are living in my mom’s house on Lamanche and Roman where I grew up. I am not crazy about the overall quality of work but it’s better than before the storm and my mom’s back in m grandmother’s house. My oldest child, my daughter Danielle, is still living in Marrero. Over the past year, she has gone from housing my entire family, mom, daughter, son-in-law, her husband and two children, to just her and the two boys. She and her husband have separated and are filing for divorce. They’ve been married just over a year. So life is returning to normal? Life in the house on Lamanche is returning to normal. In 1965 during Betsy my grandmother, mother, father and I lived in the house on Lamanche and Roman. (My father was out of town during that storm.)

Now after Katrina, my mother, daughter, son-in-law and their daughter live in the two bedroom house. Old fashioned family unit with the matriarch at home cooking dinner everyday and the entire family under one roof. And the house is across the street from MLK elementary where my two grandsons are in attendance.

After school they go over to Grandma Iris’ house until my daughter picks them up.

So they see each other everyday.

My dad is at American Can Company. Jim (her husband), Stephen and I are still in MidCity. I’ve committed to clearing away the overgrowth in my yard in Holy Cross, planting a garden and having the exterior of the house painted in November. Then I’ll hang shutters, and get the house rewired. I’m taking my time and rushing simultaneously.

Your thoughts about the future of the community you have been  rebuilding and how community has shaped your work.

Family has shaped my work. Both of my maternal grandparents lived in the Lower 9th ward as did their extended families. A week ago, my 95-year old great aunt died. She was the last of my grandfather’s generation. Her church has reopened on Caffin; the church that her father founded and built. The same church where I attended daycare as a toddler and my second daughter attended summer camp. Not far away is the land where she and four siblings grew up, the site of the Dunson Memorial Ethnobotanical Garden, the project nearest and dearest to my heart.

School, education, has shaped my work, since my mother and grandmother were elementary school teachers.  My children and grandchildren have had the same elementary school principal, Doris Hicks. So school and community are interrelated. The school is open and is an anchor in the Lower 9th ward north of Claiborne. The community has reinforced my belief in resiliency and self-determination.

I am very hopeful.











































Local farmers markets doing their part to serve food insecure neighbors

It is important to understand the work that farmers markets have done over the last decade and a half to bridge the digital divide that resulted from the 1994-2004 move from paper food stamps to the EBT card across the U.S. In 2005, New Orleans’ ECOnomics Institute*, house at Loyola University’s Twomey Center for Peace and Justice was one of the first market organizations in the country to build partnerships to fund the technology and the outreach to reclaim the attendance of food stamp shoppers at farmers markets. The organization has expanded its programs to encourage low-income and at-risk neighbors to be able to access healthy food grown by their farm neighbors, and shared its tactics and findings with market organizations across the U.S.

The average benefit for a SNAP recipient is about $4 per day, but in Louisiana the average cost for just one meal is $3. For one person eating three meals a day with no snacks, that’s a food-budget shortfall of $150 each month. For a family of four it’s $600 per month, and to qualify for the program, these families can’t net a monthly income above $2100.

Families participating in WIC can have higher incomes than those receiving only SNAP benefits, and some families receive benefits from both programs. But unlike SNAP, WIC food packages limit families to purchasing specific items and brands, and the allowance for fruits and vegetables is only about $10 per month.

At the office for Market Umbrella and the Crescent City Farmers Market we get several calls a week from people who need food. Their SNAP benefits have run out. The closest food pantry isn’t open that day. Spending money on food now might mean falling behind on rent or the Entergy bill.

Unfortunately, we aren’t always able to help these people in crisis, but we do operate several programs at Crescent City Farmers Market that incentivize and encourage healthy eating on a budget. Our Market Match and Market+ WIC programs give households extra money to purchase fruits and vegetables, all of them grown within 200 miles of the city, picked fresh, and packed full of nutrients.

The Market Mommas Club gives Medicaid-eligible mothers who are breastfeeding $80 a month to spend on local goods at our markets—an amount roughly equal to what might be spent on infant formula over the same period of time.

Besides bringing more fresh produce into our community’s homes, we’ve also partnered with local schools through our Farm to School program. It connects farmers to school food providers and assists with hands-on gardening education for teachers and students.

We believe our farmers and families should have sovereignty over the foods they grow and consume, and that growing and shopping local are vital to our community’s physical, mental, and economic health.

The Lens piece about farmers market programs

* ECOnomics Institute renamed itself Market Umbrella and established itself as an independent 501 (c) 3 organization in 2008.