On the second day of our trip, we visited Grow Dat Youth Farm, which was created as an urban agricultural program to promote youth empowerment and to bring together a community of diverse individuals. Located on a 3-acre site within the city, it was formerly a golf course and now is a place for high-school aged youth to develop their skills and find common ground with youth of other backgrounds in the city. Post-Katrina, New Orleans’ already poor social conditions were further entrenched by the destruction caused by the flooding. Grow Dat employs the underemployed youth of New Orleans who would otherwise have few opportunities to earn an income or build their professional skills. Youth are recruited according to a 20-60-20 model, meaning 20% of the youth show leadership skills and perform well academically, 60% are youth who are not engaged in community or academic life, and the remaining 20% are disconnected youth.
When we arrived, we were greeted by Leo, who is a farmer and leader at Grow Dat. He gave us a tour and introduced us to a typical day at the farm. It seemed like a lot of hard work! Grow Dat really appreciates volunteers because without them, it would be difficult to sustain the farm. After the tour, Leo showed us how to manually weed around the crops, which was our task for the whole day. When we took a break for lunch, we got to have a Q&A with Jeanne, the program manager of Grow Dat. She got us thinking about food security and food justice by giving us her perspective on grassroots organizations, food stamps, and the struggle to provide healthy food equally to everyone.
This experience made us reflect on issues surrounding food security and urban agriculture. Jeanne mentioned that NGO’s in New Orleans compete for funding. This seems like a huge obstacle to NGO’s collaborating for the benefit of the community since there is only so much funding available but so many social issues to be addressed. While working on the farm, we also started thinking about whether a similar project would be feasible in Calgary. Back home, we would have to consider the shorter growing season, the amount of urban space available, the support from the community, and sources of funding. There are already many community gardens in Calgary, but none are on such a large-scale or attempt to bridge the gap between different social groups the way Grow Dat! does. On a final note, it is important to foster a safe space for people to share their ideas and collaborate to be leaders of positive change that will promote social justice in every community. As Horace Mann said, “A different world cannot be built by indifferent people”.
Written by Frances and Katie