Erika Nolan is a licensed landscape horticulturist. This means that she is trained and skilled in the creation and maintenance of organic and edible gardens, landscape gardens, and pollinator gardens. She is a New Orleans native who graduated from Delgado Community College with a certification in horticultural studies, after spending years pursuing other career paths such as education, public relations, vocal performance and writing.
After receiving her license in landscape horticulture, Erika slowly began her work in the gardening world of New Orleans, by making her own garden beds, growing herbs and selling her products at pop-up markets around the city. About five years ago, this work evolved into the creation of Instar Farms, a for-profit business that creates and maintains edible gardens and landscape gardens around the city.
Instar’s main selling point for their services is the quality of their gardens and the high rate of success of what they grow. Erika explained that the first thing they consider when working with a new client is the design of the space. This is essential to the successful growth of the plants, and it simultaneously allows Erika to bring creativity and innovation into her practice. She said, “We like to think of ourselves as garden artists.”
Instar Farms has an urban farm model in Harahan, LA, on Erika’s personal property, but her business currently manages over thirty accounts (residential and commercial) in Orleans and Jefferson Parish. It is a female-majority team, with a small in-house staff that contracts out workers like landscape architects, arborists and irrigation experts. The core values of the company include honesty and communication, which Erika has found to be essential when working with her staff, as well as her clients.
There are many aspects of Instar’s work that align with permacultural practices. For example, they purchase all of their soil from Laughing Buddha Nursery, which comes directly from a farm with animals that are fed spent grain, keeping the soil top-quality. Secondarily, when they find insects in their gardens, their first step is manual removal, egg inspection and smushing, before resorting to organic pesticides and fungicides (as the worst-case scenario). Finally, the creation of pollinator gardens that support hummingbirds and butterflies is a very successful way to develop an environment that allows insects into the system in a managed way, instead of trying to remove all insect activity.
Erika is passionate about this work because she feels it allows her to contribute to improving health in her community. Not only does it increase her clients’ access to locally-grown produce, but, more importantly, her clients love spending time in their garden and learning about growing their plants, and the interactions with pollinators and other insects. Though she says she does charge a premium for her services, thereby limiting her clientele significantly, Erika is on the board of Green Light New Orleans, a local nonprofit that installs edible gardens around the city. In this way, she says, “I am able to touch a broader spectrum of the physical community.”