Flooding following Hurricane Katrina and long-term blight have left New Orleans with a bumper crop of vacant lots; accompanying this bounty is an increase in concern over how the city can address it. Recently, however, a local nonprofit advocate for urban farming has begun an initiative aimed at turning more of those lots into resources to help produce fresh, healthy food while spurring some economic development, too.
This summer, the New Orleans Food and Farm Network launched Farm This Now!, a program designed to connect New Orleans residents who want to grow food on land in the city where they can garden or farm.
“People are coming to us constantly asking us about how they can do something like this and we thought we have to connect the access points and help make this easier,” says Sanjay Kharod, executive director of the New Orleans Food and Farm Network.
He says Farm This Now! grew out of residents’ frustration in trying to propose projects on vacant property they would see every day in their neighborhoods. One of the toughest obstacles to getting that done, he says, has been simply finding out who owns the lot and then navigating the process to get access to it and ensuring it can be farmed legally and sustainably.
The initiative includes an online map that pulls together public data on vacant lots around the city and a handbook explaining the different options available to purchase or lease the land.
“If you want to do this, we need to be able to say, ‘here are the tools and the pathways there for you so you don’t have to guess,’” says Kharod.
Kharod estimates that turning a standard 3,000-sqaure-foot New Orleans residential lot into a viable farm costs about $10,000, including raised beds, irrigation, fencing and permits. Once plugged in to the Food and Farm Network, aspiring farmers can get further development help. For instance, the group is starting an urban farming training program to teach would-be farmers about marketing and running a viable business so that they can keep their reclaimed plots thriving.
Find online resources for Farm This Now! And other Farm and Food Network projects at noffn.org.