VEGGI Farmers Cooperative (Village de l’Est Green Growers Initiative) is a community member owned and operated farmer’s cooperative based out of New Orleans East. Designed as a cooperative to prevent competition between members of the neighborhood, this organization seeks to provide employment and supplemental income to its members while simultaneously providing high quality, fresh produce to local markets and restaurants.
VEGGI started as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in April of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. As the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum agency, it dramatically affected the health of the Gulf’s marine ecosystems as well as the fisherman who relied on these ecosystems for their livelihoods. It had a disproportionate impact on members of the Vietnamese population of New Orleans East, around 30% of which worked as fishermen. In response to the disaster, this group of individuals organized in search of another type of employment: farming.
In late 2011, 12 community members received training in aquaponics and greenhouse technology with support from JOB1 and Delgado Community College. Each member received micro-grants to start the systems on their own properties. Now, eight years later, three couples in the community grow produce on their land, one of which still uses the aquaponics system. They also grow on part of a 2-acre lot that is right by the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, an organization with which they are closely affiliated.
Nguyen(Tom) Nguyen is one of the full-time staff that currently works for VEGGI. He attends the Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday Crescent City Farmer’s Markets (Uptown, Mid-City and Downtown, respectively), as well as collaborates with the many restaurants that use VEGGI’s products in their menus. He also coordinates VEGGI’s CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, which currently has over twenty weekly subscribers. Needless to say, he is kept busy with the daily operations of this small but well-connected organization.
Tom has worked for VEGGI for three years. He moved here from California, but has spent a significant amount of time in New Orleans due to family residing in and around the city. He has a personal backyard garden at his home in Algiers, but will be moving to the North Shore soon on a property with much more land. He takes care of twenty chickens, and grows mirlitons, loofa squash and root vegetables. Tom loves this type of work because it allows him to reach people, and improve access to local produce. He enjoys working outdoors, and prefers to reside out of the city and travel to New Orleans during market days.
“[There needs to be] zoning in New Orleans that provides more land for the farmers, and the city needs to be more cooperative with urban farmers,” said Tom in an interview. As an example of positive cooperation, Tom recommended the presence of permits that allow water use for farmers.
The Co-op’s main product is tofu; soybeans are purchased from a farm that grows them in Arkansas, and they make multiple different flavors. Other products that they are currently selling include Mesclun mix, eggs (from both chickens and ducks), peppers, loofa squash, and value-added items like peanut brittle. Their CSA frequently features products from other farms, highlighting the collaboration between small-scale growers in the area. Say hi to Tom and pick up some fresh produce at the next market in your neighborhood!