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!

Happy New Year!

New Year's EveWe here at Recirculating Farms Coalition wish you and yours a happy healthy new year! As we say goodbye to 2014 and welcome 2015 and all the exciting possibilities it brings, we’d like to review some of the highlights from last year and offer a glimpse of our plans for 2015:

2014 highlights:

SaveSchoolLunch# Campaign – we along with national partners pushed Congress not to change important minimum standards for healthier school lunches.

Protect Our Pogies Campaign – about a billion pounds of “the most important” fish in the Gulf of Mexico – menhaden – (also called “pogies”) is caught annually – with no annual cap or monitoring of the industry. We are asking policymakers to cap the catch and also make sure other sea life – like dolphins and sharks – aren’t being killed accidentally when these fish are caught.

No Factory Fish Farms Campaign – this year the National Marine Fisheries Service and their parent agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided industrial fish farming should develop in the Gulf of Mexico – sound crazy? We think so! We along with various partners are trying to stop this madness  – the Gulf does not need the potential for more pollution and debris!

Opening of our Growing Local NOLA Community Food and Farm Center – Hooray! in October we hosted the community opening of our public campus in Central City, New Orleans. We celebrated with farm to table cooking demonstrations, using food right from our own garden, sample exercise classes – yoga, zumba, salsa dancing and boot camp – a mini farmers market with fresh produce, crafts and pickled and jarred foods from various local vendors, live music, a seafood boil and our friends – Brec on the Geaux – a recreational vehicle that offers basketball, obstacle courses, hoola hoops and other equipment anywhere – provided fun for kids and adults alike! We had over 200 friends neighbors and colleagues join us for our opening event and partake in all the activities.

Summer classes series – even before we had everything just perfect at our Center – we were hosting free classes and events for the public – from health supportive cooking, using all the great herbs and veggies we were growing, to gardening and farming 101 trainings – summer school was the place to be!

Farm to School resolution passed in Louisiana! – WOW – this was a major win for us and our collaborative partners – and a great indication that Louisiana is poised to bring better local food into our schools.


Projections for 2015:

Ramping up our classes schedule at Growing Local NOLA – Last year our summer and fall series were a huge hit. This year, as soon as the weather warms up a bit (early March) we’ll be back in thigh gear – hosting 3 classes a week (What’s cooking on Wednesdays, Get movin’ on Thursdays and Let’s grow on Saturdays) PLUS our 2 day intensive farmer 101 trainings every other month.

National policy work continues – we expect to continue working on protect the pogies, factory fish farming and farm to school campaigns and already have started work on others, like national organic standards for water-based farms. We look forward to great successes this year!

New staff - As our programs and initiatives expand – so do we! We’ve added administrative support and communications and media folks to our national team and in New Orleans we now have farmers on site at Growing Local NOLA. In 2015, we look forward to further strategic growth.

Testing new farm designs and green building materials – some of the biggest challenges in innovative farming are the materials available for use. We rely so heavily on plastics and sourcing locally can be difficult. In an effort to be “greener” we are trying alternative materials – like bamboo, rubber and coconut husks and shells for pipes, planters and more.

Growing collaborations in the Gulf – one of our primary goals for the year is working to develop stronger partnerships and collaborations throughout the Gulf states to jointly address important issues – like food security, land access and insurance for small scale farmers.

Green energy – we are trying to be totally “off grid”-  we’ve been slowly installing individual solar energy systems to power various parts of Growing Local NOLA. We have cooling fans and irrigation in our greenhouse running entirely on solar panels and recently we outfitted our larger scale aquaponics system with it’s own solar energy source too. We hope to continually add to these until we are able to power our lights and more without hooking up to the grid.

New website! – in the new we say – and we are very excited about upgrading our website – watch for real design and content change coming soon!