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Profile: Johanna Gilligan

Founder, Grow Dat Youth Farm

Cheryl Gerber

The Grow Dat Youth Farm, founded by Johanna Gilligan, is a food education program that creates job opportunities for local high school students in the field of urban agriculture. Grow Dat is inspired by similar programs, such as The Food Project in Massachusetts, as well as New Orleans’ own Edible Schoolyard.

Founded in 2011, the Grow Dat Youth Farm is the result of a partnership between the Tulane City Center, the New Orleans Food and Farm Network and New Orleans City Park. In its early stages, Grow Dat was incubated within Tulane University, primarily within the Tulane City Center and the Office for Social Entrepreneurship.

Grow Dat’s farm is located on a 4-acre site in the heart of City Park. The produce grown on the farm nourishes New Orleans residents who have limited access to fresh food. Sixty percent of the food is sold in markets, restaurants and corner stores, while the remaining 40 percent is donated to hunger relief agencies.

Given the many benefits to student workers, the Grow Dat program continues to gain popularity. Now in its third year, Grow Dat will graduate 23 students in 2013, more than double its 2011 class size. The student workers earn a stipend for their contributions, and they learn a variety of marketable skills related to growing, cooking and selling organic vegetables and fruit. They are involved at every stage of the food preparation process, from planting seeds to selling produce at the Crescent City Farmers Markets. Furthermore, the students help find creative ways to deliver produce – such as a pop-up farmers market in a trailer that serves the Columbia Parc community.

According to Gilligan, the most rewarding aspect of her job is the chance to work with young adults. She feels that teens are an untapped resource, and Grow Dat helps them become their best selves. Furthermore, the program encourages students from all over the New Orleans metropolitan area to work together, forging friendships among students from many different public and private high schools. Lastly, both Gilligan and the students love the opportunity to work with their hands and spend a great deal of time outdoors.

Individual volunteers are always welcome. Grow Dat’s Harvest Volunteer Days take place every Tuesday and Friday through May 17. Additional volunteer duties are also available; contact Volunteer Specialist Jabari Brown (jabari1@growdatyouthfarm.org) for more information.

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