Most of us who grew up in New Orleans think of ourselves as “city” kids. Although we have Audubon and City parks and plenty of green space in which kids can play, New Orleans is a city, an urban center. Well, most of it is.
Tucked away on the West Bank near Algiers is a rural enclave that’s filled with wide-open spaces, people with ATVs and Sugar Roots Farm, a teaching farm whose mission “is to foster compassion and physical wellness in the metro NOLA communities through farm-to-fork education. Sugar Roots is dedicated to making a positive impact on our children by teaching them how to feed themselves using a sustainable, free-range working farm model.”
Executive Director and Founder Sharessa Garland came to New Orleans to work for Audubon Zoo after getting her degrees in New York. After falling in love with New Orleans she decided to open Sugar Roots Farm, which is located just 15 minutes from downtown.
The farm isn’t as expansive as a commercial farm, but, for children (particularly smaller ones), that space is particularly manageable and inviting. They don’t offer daily visits, but instead welcome regular visitors every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. However, you can also reserve the farm for field trips, camps, retreats and birthday parties.
In addition to honey and eggs from the farm, you can also buy food to feed some of the many animals that live there. Goats, alpacas and chickens are willing recipients of apples donated by local grocery stores that cannot sell them. They also have horseback rides for kids and the occasional special event. The picnic area is particularly well suited for birthday parties, and the animals are accessible but still secured, meaning kids can walk around and explore without feeling programmed or as if they’re in an amusement park.
Since it’s a teaching farm, there aren’t dozens of cows and pigs, but instead one cow and two large hogs (that you’re warned not to touch since pigs apparently bite). In the spring, the rabbits have bunnies and the chickens are hatching chicks. However, perhaps one of the most famous residents is Bandito, a horse that was rescued after being found full of parasites and extremely underweight. It is clear the animals are happy to get tasty treats from kids and that the kids enjoy having an excuse to get a little dirty and have an up-close view of animals that they normally only see in books.
In a city that’s as food-obsessed as our own, perhaps the biggest benefit of the Sugar Roots farm is its education focus that shows them where the food they eat actually comes from and why sustainability and farming are important and much closer to “home” than they realize. Local citrus trees with signs indicating their type are sprinkled around, and the friendly and engaging staff are eager to share knowledge with anyone with interest. They compost and collect food waste to feed the animals and have regular classes dedicated to teaching kids a farm-to-fork model food production.
While a visit to the farm isn’t likely to cause us to get some livestock or till our backyards, it’s a nice opportunity, especially while the heat is still mild, to buy a bag of dirt, plant to some seeds and see what how we can grow a few things to put on the dinner table this summer.
Just the Facts …
Sugar Roots Farm
10701 Willow Drive
Open for visits Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (weather permitting)
Admission: $6/person (2 and under free)