Food Security Panel Discussion

WPC networking 2 10515On Monday October 5th, the Recirculating Farms Coalition hosted a dinner for the Women’s Professional Council of New Orleans, and a panel discussion on food security and access. The setting for the meal and topic was perfect – it was all held at RFC’s Growing Local NOLA community garden in Central City, New Orleans.

Historically, Central City is an under-served, lower income neighborhood, without any full service grocery store. The area is also considered a “food desert”, as there is very limited access to fresh food there. These are among the reasons Growing Local NOLA made a home in Central City, to offer a place for residents to grow their own fresh food and so they could also purchase it straight from the garden at a reasonable cost. The garden grows fruits, vegetables and herbs, and houses free range happy chickens that provide fresh eggs; all of this is available at affordable prices to the community.  There are also free weekly exercise classes on Wednesdays, health supportive cooking classes every 1st Thursday of the month and gardening/farming classes every 2nd Saturday of the month.

Panelists included representatives from: Grow Dat Youth Farm, Broad Community Connections, Circle Food WPC Discussion panel 10515Store and Recirculating Farms Coalition. Interestingly, there was a consensus among the speakers that New Orleans is aware of inadequacies regarding access to healthy, fresh food based on socio-economics, race, and location and many people are working toward solutions – but there are still many hurdles to overcome.

The women enjoyed a garden fresh menu, crafted from just-picked items, or from local businesses. Cocktail hour included: pickled peppers, okra and watermelon rinds; herbed roasted nuts and pumpkin spice cider (BIG THANKS to Cathead Vodka for donating the pumpkin spice vodka!). This was followed by a watermelon, feta, mint salad over mixed spicy greens in a lemon pecan vinaigrette; ratatouille over Cajun rice and NOLA style BBQ shrimp and grits; and finished with an amazing sweet potato bread pudding with a burnt sugar cane drizzle. Yum! Kudos to Ica Crawford of Growing Local NOLA and Katy Jane Tull and Leah Fishbein of Cake By The Pound for a delicious and beautiful local meal.

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USDA “EQIP”s Urban Growers!

hoop houseJune 26th was an exciting day for us here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition! That’s when we found out we had been accepted to participate in the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).

EQIP is a financial assistance program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Natural Resources Conservation Service. EQIP is designed to aid farmers in implementing practices that improve conservation and quality of soil, water, animals, land and other agricultural resources.

Through the Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, a program funded by EQIP, the USDA supported our farm in New Orleans, Growing Local NOLA, in the planning, and purchasing of a brand new hoop house!

“Hoop houses” can help extend the growing season for various crops, like tomatoes or leafy greens. High tunnels are not greenhouses, but rather rounded structures covered in a plastic-like covering. These tunnels can add six or more weeks to a growing season by modifying the climate inside of the hoop house to more favorable growing conditions, protecting the crops from harsh weather or extreme temperatures. Crop yields are usually better not only because of the extended season, but the improvement of nutrient and water management that the hoop houses can provide, as well as the reduced incidence of pests and diseases due to the covering.

Three cheers for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services EQIP program! To learn more about the EQIP program, and to determine if you may qualify to participate, please visit the USDA NRCS EQIP website.

“Alternative” Spring Break at Growing Local NOLA!

Some colleges are now encouraging their students to take “alternative” spring breaks – where the main focus is community service and learning through experiences. This past week, Recirculating Farms Coalition hosted two groups of Spring Breakers – one from Kentucky and another from University of Southern Cali Law – at our Growing Local NOLA community garden in New Orleans.

Students got out in the garden and cared for chickens, built, filled and waterproofed raised garden beds, reorganized our greenhouses, cleaned and planted our aquaponic system and much more!

Farm Manager Ica Crawford even cooked some local dishes for all the students to sample – using fresh eggs, greens and herbs right from the garden.

Big thanks to our friends Capstone Community Gardens and David Young for connecting us with the schools sponsoring these programs, the schools themselves for encouraging community service during spring break and of course all the students who worked so hard this past week – our garden looks amazing!!

RFC Awarded USDA Grant – Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden Visits!

Dep Sec Hardin at GLNFebruary 2nd was an exciting day for us here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition. We learned that we’d been awarded a New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to supporting training and mentoring for urban farmers in innovative growing methods like recirculating hydroponics, aquaculture and aquaponics, combined with traditional soil-based farming. AND the announcement came with an in-person visit from USDA’s Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and various USDA staff from Louisiana and Washington, DC! Read USDA’s press release here.

Deputy Secretary Harden, accompanied by Louisiana and Washington, DC staff, toured RFC’s community garden, spoke with food and farm project leaders and enjoyed assorted treats prepared with ingredients from local farms.

Shout out to the various local farms and food businesses that provided food for our menu:

7th Ward Boys and Girls Garden – 7th Ward, New Orleans; Capstone Community Gardens – 9th Ward, New Orleans; Grow Dat Youth Farm – City Park, New Orleans; Growing Local NOLA – Central City, New Orleans; Happy Hen Farm – St. Rose, LA; Inglewood Farm – Alexandria, LA; Landry-Poche Strawberry Farm – Ponchatoula, LA; Locally Preserved – New Orleans; Schwars Citrus – Braithwaite, LA; and VEGGI Farmers Cooperative – New Orleans East!

The Deputy Secretary spoke to a diverse crowd of farmers, educators, community members and press on this initiative to train, mentor, and enhance the success of future farmers and ranchers. See video here.

“As new farmers and ranchers get started, they are really looking to their community for support. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program empowers these farmers and ranchers to bring innovative ideas to the table when it comes to addressing food security, creating economic enterprises, and building communities,” said Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. ”

Our Executive Director Marianne Cufone followed with thanks and appreciation for the grant, the visit and for everyone who works so hard in the food farming community:

“I want to first thank Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and the rest of the USDA folks for coming here, to New Orleans, to make these announcements. Highlighting our community and supporting training and mentorship in farming here is so important for us all to have access to healthy fresh affordable food, and for our farmers to be both ecologically and economically sustainable. We are very excited about being part of the New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

I also very much thank all of you for joining with us here. You are each a critical piece of the food and farming community and the time, energy and heart you put into this work has empowered us all to create green spaces, more good local food and perhaps most importantly, a network of friends, colleagues and partners, who work together to grow literally and collaboratively in this City and beyond.

There are so many innovative, amazing projects and programs in food and farming that you all make happen – I look forward to us all sharing them this morning with each other, Deputy Secretary Harden and the rest of the USDA staff.

Thank you so much for all that you do!”

We’ll be posting more pix from the event on our Facebook page and you can read our press release about the event here.

Colleges do “MLK Day of Service”

Students in greenhouse 2On Martin Luther King Day, January 19th, 45 students and professors from Tulane, Loyola, Xavier, University of New Orleans and Dillard all came out to our Growing Local NOLA community garden to lend support to us here at Recirculating Farms Coalition. The joint program of all the colleges fosters interaction among students at different institutions and helps to inspire a connection to the city and local organizations, in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s dream of community.

We accomplished so much – building compost bins, sorting and planting seeds, painting, weeding and some general spring cleaning and organizing!

Big thanks to everyone who participated – and special kudos to our LA Master Gardener Debra Surtain for organizing the event, the visiting Rev. Sally Wright from Presbyterian Church USA and our NOLA team who worked hard on their day off!

We all enjoyed working together and look forward to doing it again soon!