One Sunday morning, I took time to reflect my choice to work as a farmer. I sat under a volunteer pecan tree, near a pink lemon tree and a fig tree that survived Hurricane Katrina. As the wind hit my face, I couldn’t help but smile. The wind brought the approval of my ancestors, who worked as sharecroppers and farmers in Tallahassee, Florida.
I have been an urban farmer in New Orleans for some time now. My work as a farmer is similar to that of my ancestors, it is done out of necessity. There was a time when I could not afford the produce I needed to maintain my health. Using the tools I learned from my family, I started growing by assisting a neighbor with transforming a lot into an urban farm. I worked for myself, and for my neighbors. I really wanted the residents of the Hollygrove neighborhood to have access to the fresh food I’d grown.
I became known in my neighborhood, affectionately, as “Farmer Brown” because I’d often wear a straw hat while working on the farm. I quickly learned that seeing me on the farm could change my neighbor’s knowledge, attitudes and eventually their behaviors too, about including fresh produce in their diets. As my fruits and vegetables grew, I’d offer them to the community – so they could taste the different items I was growing.
After conducting a neighborhood survey, through Fitness Fleet, Inc., I learned many of the people I saw every day were plagued by preventable chronic diseases. As their “Farmer Brown”, I was unofficially dubbed their community health worker too and I wanted my work to ensure everyone around me had access to fresh, healthy produce at an affordable price, to support and improve their health.
Soon, I was given the opportunity to work as the head farmer at Agrowtopia at Xavier University. Agrowtopia is a farm that literally sprouted from an idea of a group of Xavier students. Like my neighborhood, the University is centered in a food desert in an area called Gert Town. These students, some now graduated, decided their urban farm should not only grow fresh produce, but provide information to the neighborhood on healthy living too. Now, I work with student volunteers on .2 acres of land with 28 raised garden beds – and we grow healthy fresh food.
Accessibility and affordability to healthy food is essential for a healthy life. Yet, in New Orleans, like many cities in the United States, especially predominantly Black and low income neighborhoods, there are disparities in retail food accessibility, affordability, and quality. My work as a farmer allows me to change this at a grassroots level, while honoring my family legacy and helping to ensure a healthy future for my family, friends, and neighbors.
About the author: Kaleb Hill is an experienced New Orleans urban farmer who runs the farm and programs at Agrowtopia at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and also owns a co-op, Oko Vue Produce Co., he and a fellow Xavierite, Jonathan Menyon, founded.