For as long as I’ve known her, my mother-in-law has tended various gardens abundant with vegetables, fruit, flowers and assorted herbs. Not only has our family been the recipients of her garden’s bounty, we’ve gained an appreciation of the time, love, problem solving and persistence gardening requires. My children laugh reminiscing of days when picking and eating “Grammie’s carrots from the ground” were better because they came straight from the dirt!
On seven acres nestled into a former City Park golf course is an oasis: Grow Dat Youth Farm. Grow Dat is anchored by an award winning eco-friendly campus. It consists of seven retrofitted shipping containers built and donated by students and staff at the Tulane School of Architecture that houses offices, a teaching kitchen, composting toilets, locker rooms, cold storage, a post-harvesting handling area and farm tool storage. Beyond this striking building, a “birdwalk” overlooking the bayou beckons visitors to view resident and migratory birds in their protected habitat. And, around the bend from the birding corridor are two acres of seven neatly organized fields of produce surrounded by fragrant citrus trees. But Grow Dat is more than a pretty place.
“At Grow Dat, you’re not just learning about food, you’re also learning about yourself. I feel like I really discovered who I was and became more confident in what I’m able to do. It’s really a life-changing experience, through the work of growing food,” says 2012 graduate Carnisha.
Each year, a diverse group of 50 local youth are accepted into the Grow Dat Leadership Program to learn skills related to the program’s three pillars: Sustainable Farming, Food Justice and Leadership. It is a hands-on, intensive work experience where youth are encouraged to bring a willingness to learn new skills and work collaboratively – and knowledge of gardening isn’t required. Using natural methods without chemicals or pesticides, over 10,000 pounds of produce is grown annually. The learning doesn’t end there; last year $57,000 was brought in from produce students sold at farmer’s markets, to Farm Share CSA or to wholesale to restaurants. And, around 30 percent of the produce is donated to local Shared Harvest Partner groups and to the students themselves.
But how did this oasis come to be? A 2003 Tulane graduate, Johanna Gilligan, noticed a disturbing lack of exposure to fresh food by today’s youth. Because of her love of gardening and professional background in social innovation and social entrepreneurship, Gilligan, now Executive Director, partnered with Tulane to develop the Grow Dat Youth Farm and its mission “to nurture a diverse group of young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food.” Successful but forward thinking, “Grow Dat is poised for growth in two key ways: The first is finding more land to farm on to create more space for youth to grow more food for our city; the second is to find more ways to bring our alumni back into our work to share their knowledge and passion for food justice and sustainable farming with others as they lead field trips for kids, farm tours for adults and maybe even start their own market gardens. With more than 200 alumni, there’s so much we can do!” says Gilligan.
Grow Dat Youth Farm reminds us that through hard work comes great reward – and that we can learn much about our earth, each other and ourselves through the simple act of growing food.
A little more …
Seasonal produce is available at the Grow Dat Farm Stand
Saturdays, January 16 through June 25, 2017
150 Zachary Taylor Drive
For more information, visit GrowDatYouthFarm.org