What does it take to be one of the only commercial urban farms in the Greater New Orleans Area? It helps a TON to have the perfect combination of owners; one with commercial farming experience and the other with a business background. Cheryl Nunes participated in a farmer training program seven years ago in Massachusetts, and managed other farms before starting River Queen Greens. Although this is Annie Moore’s first time as a farmer, she uses her experience in non-profit management and social enterprise to manage the administrative side of the business.
Cheryl and Annie of River Queen Greens broke ground on their farm in the Bywater in November 2017, and their first growing season was spring of 2018. They grow lettuce, mesclun greens mix, arugula, kale, radishes, salad turnips, hot peppers, cucumbers, fairtyale eggplant, microgreens, and herbs. Though the farm boasts a significant variety of produce, microgreens are one third of their total income, because it can be sold wholesale to restaurants or other entities.
River Queen Greens sells its produce to places like the famous Brennan’s Restaurant in the French Quarter, and also sells in person at the local farmers’ markets. You can find their products at the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Crescent City Farmers’ Markets (in Uptown, the Bywater, and Mid-City, respectively). River Queen Greens is able to sell nearly all of the produce, having less than five percent of food waste from the operation.
When asked how to make commercial urban farming more common and successful here in New Orleans, Annie had a few thoughtful responses. First, she challenged the efficiency of urban farming generally, since the lack of growing space in New Orleans is a major issue for new (and current) urban farmers. Not only is there a lack of growing space, but the leases are very tenuous and rarely long-term – as in the case of River Queen Green’s Bywater location and many others. Annie thinks it makes sense to use land outside of the city and bring food to sell at the markets, which is what many of the vendors do at NOLA farmers’ markets currently. Additionally, she said that the knowledge of production farming is essential if you want to grow enough to meet the needs of restaurants and markets on a consistent basis. River Queen Greens chooses quick turnover crops to keep production high. Microgreens, for example, can be harvested in just a week.
One of the other reasons behind the success of River Queen Greens is that Annie and Cheryl used personal assets to invest in making their company successful, which may not be an option for all growers. There is a significant startup cost to becoming a farmer, for needs like space, equipment, seeds, infrastructure, labor, and more.
Both Annie and Cheryl are passionate about the work of growing and producing food for the local community. Cheryl loves to eat vegetables, and happily grows food for herself and for others. Annie really enjoys the direct transactions between farmer and consumer, and the ability to interact with the people who buy her produce. “I have really appreciated being part of the group of urban farmers here in New Orleans that are leading the effort,” said Annie. “I always feel welcome at the markets [and other spaces]. There is a real focus on collectivisim in this community, and though I am naturally a competitive person, I believe in the power of collectivism”.