Although National Food Day has come and gone, a coalition in New Orleans hopes to champion affordable, healthy and sustainable food all year round.
Growing Local NOLA will be a new hub for research, education and community interaction on growing, marketing and preparing healthy fresh food. The centre is a partnership that includes the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Recirculating Farms Coalition, and New Orleans Food and Farm Network. The hub will be housed on 2.5 acres of land owned by the Convention Centre, and will include a vast farming centre.
“We are thrilled to host the new food and farm center on our site,” said Bob Johnson, President of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. “This is an incredibly meaningful project that will showcase cutting edge urban farming methods and provide unique classes and activities for our community, as well as convention attendees and others visiting from all around the world.”
The core of the new center is to be an innovative water-based recirculating farm that uses hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient-rich constantly recycled water) and aquaponics (raising fish and plants together in one closed-loop system). Both methods are ideal for cities because they can grow a wide range of plants and fish on rooftops, or on oddly shaped or even paved lots, producing high yields in a small amount of space. The centre will also have a community garden — with raised soil beds and fruit trees — a classroom, teaching kitchen, events space, and eventually, an on-site cafe serving farm to table local fare.
“This center will be a catalyst for personal and community farms and local food here in New Orleans and beyond,” said Marianne Cufone, Executive Director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition.
While New Orleans is famous for its unique cuisine, fresh food is not always accessible and affordable for everyone. Louisiana has the second highest obesity rate in the country. And with just over 20 grocery stores to serve more than 350,000 residents, New Orleans is one of the worst food deserts. The new centre hopes to change all of this.
The centre’s farm will source fresh food to local distributors, restaurants and grocers, as well as direct to consumers through an on-site farmers’ market. It will also offer a wide range of gardening, farming, and farm-to-table cooking classes, programs for youth and seniors, and demonstrations, lectures, and presentations. The hub will host special events too, such as harvest dinners and private parties, at its new Convention Center space.
Sanjay Kharod, Executive Director of the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, explained, “This centre is all about inspiring people to grow healthy fresh food for themselves and for sale at affordable prices to their neighbors and communities, creating green jobs and preparing delicious, nutritious meals.”
Growing Local NOLA will be built using grants from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation and the Claneil Foundation. In addition to funding, the project has drawn much praise, enthusiasm and in-kind support.
“The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry is excited about the creation of this food and farming center,” said Commissioner Mike Strain. “We plan to work collaboratively with the Recirculating Farms Coalition, New Orleans Food and Farm Network and Convention Center on this important project.”
The Tulane City Center and the Louisiana State University (LSU) Urban Landscape Lab are both providing in-kind support by designing a master plan for the food and farm center. Tulane Assistant Professor of Architecture Tiffany Lin and LSU Professor of Landscape Architecture Elizabeth Mossop are leading the project.
Lin said, “Our experienced professional team is working collaboratively to showcase the inspiring green mission of this urban farm. By using recycled materials and renewable energy sources, we hope to create an innovative design solution that is natural, efficient and welcoming.”
“This Centre is an amazing collaborative effort that will support sustainable urban farming and healthy eating and lifestyles,” Cufone said.
Plans for a groundbreaking ceremony are underway. An announcement is expected in the coming weeks.