Much like an empty canvas, a vacant lot is full of wondrous possibilities. Almost fifteen years after Hurricane Katrina, the Ninth Ward is still woefully full of vacant lots. However, some enterprising urban farmers continue to create environments full of beehives, bamboo, vegetables, orchards, community, and joy.
In 2010 David Young began rescuing bees and planting gardens and orchards on 30 lots abandoned after the storm. He continues to live on his urban homestead and with the help of volunteers he’s keeping up all of his gardens.
“I sell raw honey through my organization, Capstone,” he says. “The proceeds help me make fresh food available to those in need.”
On a once abandoned lot, Mark Sanders built Ninth Ward Nursery, a small garden center specializing in non-invasive varieties of bamboo. The nursery sits in an area full of overgrown lots. In the evenings, he can sometimes hear the coyotes howling.
“Seeing the small changes taking place at Ninth Ward Nursery is incredibly gratifying,” he says. “That, along with the support of community members, volunteers and clients, is a reminder of how fortunate I am to be working on this plot of land, and how much potential for positive development still exists in the Lower Nine.”
Farming New Orleans oversees two lots in the Lower Nine and four in the Upper Nine where it grows vegetables and fruit trees. Directors Scott Roos and Matt Jones believe in reinvesting and rebuilding the blighted neighborhoods and they grow food for the community.
“We like making the lots productive and useful and getting neighbors involved in growing their own food,” says Jones.
Kat Godfrey has eight beehives on a lot in the Ninth. It’s a hobby, a way to help the bee population, which is in critical decline, and selling honey provides her a bit of income.
“There’s a Zen that happens when you work with the bees: the smell, the focus and the hum of the hive is so peaceful.”
Since moving his business, Hot Plants, a food-based plant nursery, to the Ninth Ward, Ian Willson enjoys the fact that many of his regular customers are his neighbors.
“While I want people all over the city growing their own food, it’s nice to know that a huge concentration of those interested and acting on their gardening aspirations are right around the corner from me,” says Willson: “In a perfect world everyone with a patch of sunlight in their yard would be growing at least a practical plant or two. I just want everyone who is actively interested in growing food to follow through on their farming dreams, on whatever scale brings them happiness and fulfillment.”