When Rouses expanded into the New Orleans market in 2007 by acquiring a number of Sav-A-Center supermarkets, one of the things the Thibodaux-based chain touted was the number of locally sourced products available in its stores. In just about every aisle in your local Rouses, you'll find products that were grown, raised or made within a few dozen miles. Rouses takes pride in being from Louisiana, and the company seems to look at sourcing products locally as more than just a way to market for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
Rouses has also been doing some pretty serious renovations to the former A&P-owned markets it now operates. The store at Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas is damn-near unrecognizable, and my local Rouses in Mid-City is in the process of a similar transformation. But the biggest splash Rouses has made since coming to New Orleans was opening a market in a building that formerly housed the Sewell Cadillac dealership at 701 Baronne St. in the Central Business District. That store is a boon to the ever-growing number of folks who call the CBD and/or Warehouse District home. Speaking as someone who is made of sugar (Translation: I am very, very sweet) and runs the risk of melting in a downpour, I am well-pleased with the covered parking on the store's second floor.
Usually I am an observant fellow, but I didn't learn that the Baronne Street Rouses also has a garden on its roof until I saw herbs for sale in the produce section that more or less announced the fact. After work one day recently, I took an elevator to the fourth floor of the building to check things out. That's where I met Douglas Jacobs, the CEO and co-founder of Aquaponic Modular Production Systems, the company that designed and built the rooftop setup. Jacobs told me that the garden is actually an aeroponic system, which Rouses calls “Roots on the Rooftop.” The system was pioneered by a former Disney greenhouse manager, and AMPS' website does a better job of explaining it than I can:
This cutting-edge aeroponic technology allows 44 plants to grow in 6 square feet. Aeroponics is a form of hydroponics in which plant roots are suspended in air and intermittently soaked with a nutrient-rich, mineral based solution. A nutrient solution flows onto the roots of the plants and then drips down into a reservoir where it is then recirculated. Research suggests that aeroponic systems maximize oxygen availability at the root zone, thus helping to maximize plant growth.
There are a number of advantages to the aeroponic system in addition to the fact that you can put it on a roof in the middle of downtown New Orleans. Aeroponics reduces water consumption by 90 percent, and there's no runoff. The system is less susceptible to pests, and Jacobs claims plants grow twice as fast because the root systems are better oxygenated.
AMPS is also a local company, and it's worked with the Hollygrove Market and Farm and Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corp. on aquaponics projects – raising fish and plants together. In aquaponics fish are raised in a tank, and their waste provides fertilizer for hydroponically grown plants. By absorbing the waste/fertilizer, the plants purify the water for the fish.
If you're interested in checking out the fruits of these systems, you can purchase herbs at just about any Rouses, and if you want to know more about the systems generally, Hollygrove Market is a great resource. They're set up to educate in addition to bringing fresh produce to under-served neighborhoods.