New Orleans, day three

Day 3 of our service trip to New Orleans

Our work assignment today was at Our School at Blair Grocery in the Lower Ninth Ward. Ten years ago, Blair Grocery had been a grocery, but it went out of business a decade or so ago. In 2008, a school was established to serve young people from the Lower Ninth Ward who basically hadn’t gone to school since Hurricane Katrina. A big part of the curriculum of the school is urban farming, and they sell the produce and eggs they raise in the neighborhood. So the people running Blair Grocery are not only addressing education through youth empowerment, they’re also addressing food security in the Lower Ninth Ward, a part of New Orleans that still doesn’t have a supermarket.

We were assigned two tasks at the beginning of the day. Carol, Maya, Nina, and I went to work on their main compost windrow, which was ten feet high, twenty feet wide, and perhaps fifty feet long. It was spreading out too much so we put up a fence made of pallets to contain one of the long sides. Then we climbed up on top of the heap and began shoveling the pile down against the fence. Compost piles get pretty hot — this one was steaming — and the day was blazing hot, so we took it easy so we didn’t get too overheated.

Blair Grocery is working several empty lots in the Lower Ninth. If you pay taxes on a vacant lot for three years in New Orleans, you wind up owning the lot. Blair Grocery has found some empty lots that are unlikely to be claimed by the old owners, and has been building gardens on them. The soil is not very good, so they truck in composted manure to grow vegetables in. The other group used wheelbarrows to move composted manure from one lot, where there is an established garden, to a new lots they’re now working. When it got too hot to work on the big compost windrow, some of us went over to help with this project. After lunch, we worked on several different things: sifting compost, rebuilding a wood rack

It’s amazing how many empty lots and empty houses there are in the Lower Ninth. This used to be a neighborhood where the houses are close enough together that you could talk with your neighbors next door through an open window; now only one house in ten is occupied, and it seems like more than half the lots no longer have houses. On many blocks, there’s only one occupied house.

We felt good about what we did today. Working at Blair Grocery seemed like a good way to support the community in the Lower Ninth Ward, which was one of the hardest-hit parts of the city, and which has been one of the slowest to recover.

Next post in the trip diary.