New Orleans schools embrace sustainable gardening



Food education programs are blooming in New Orleans schools and sustainable gardens have taken root in higher education. Focused on organic produce and community involvement, these local gardens are sowing seeds of sustainable education.

  Tulane University operates a sustainability farm on a 7-acre site in New Orleans City Park at 150 Zachary Taylor Drive. Founded in 2011 by food educator Johanna Gilligan and Tulane University, the 2-acre Grow Dat Youth Farm recruits 50 employees, ages 15 to 21, from nine partner high schools in the New Orleans area. Influenced by existing food education programs in New Orleans elementary and middle schools and The Food Project in eastern Massachusetts, Grow Dat Youth Farm was built as a partnership between the Tulane City Center, the New Orleans Food & Farm Network and New Orleans City Park.

  The farm uses chemical-free, sustainable methods to grow 10,000 pounds of produce every year. Its main objective is to nurture leadership qualities in young people. The leadership program teaches participants life skills — including how to grow their own food — provides them with job experience and training in sales and other business skills. About 60 percent of the produce raised at Grow Dat Youth Farm is sold at farmers markets and to grocery stores and restaurants; the rest is donated to people in need through the farm's Shared Harvest program.

  Meanwhile, LSU Health Sciences Center recently transformed a vacant lot on its downtown New Orleans campus into a sustainable, raised-bed vegetable garden. The primary project of the new organization Students for Sustainability, the 18-bed Raised Root Garden was created in conjunction with Parkway Partners, a local nonprofit dedicated to gardens in New Orleans. It was built in August by students from the six schools at LSU Health New Orleans.

  Adjacent to the Tiger's Den Cafe, the garden was designed to introduce more fresh, organic vegetables to campus cafeterias and will offer fresh produce to students in exchange for working in the garden. Liberty's Kitchen and Second Harvest Food Bank have approached student organizers to plan community outreach programs.

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