A former golf course in New Orleans’ City Park has been transformed into the city’s biggest urban farm—Grow Dat Youth Farm. The seven-acre sustainable farming nonprofit features a low-energy Eco-Campus built with seven recycled shipping containers and designed by Tulane University architecture students. The urban farming and leadership program teaches local youth how to sustainably grow fruits and veggies that are then sold to CSAs, local restaurants, and markets, as well as donated to neighborhoods lacking access to healthy, fresh food.
Founded in 2011, Grow Dat Youth Farm wants to do much more than grow delicious chemical-free food. The nonprofit farm’s central mission is to bring local youth and adults from different backgrounds together in a safe collaborative environment where they can learn how to grow their own food and develop personal, social, and environmental change. Most of the educational workshops take place within the Eco-Campus, a simple low-energy structure with an open-air classroom, two climate-controlled offices, kitchen, bathroom with composting toilets, and storage. A bioswale under the front timber walkway prevents flooding and manages water sustainably. The City Park birding corridor runs along the side of farm and provides a more wild contrast to the farmed environment.
Grow Dat Youth Farm has a long-term lease for seven acres of land in New Orlean’s City Park and is currently growing on two acres with plans for expansion. Formerly a golf course that had been uninhabited before Katrina, the site comprised very sandy or mostly clay soils—poor conditions for farming. The team remediated the soil with lots of organic matter—mainly a mixture of coffee grounds, processed dried sugar cane, and chicken manure—and use crop rotations to add minerals back into the earth. Today, the diversified farm grows over 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables, from avocados and satsuma to beets and kale.
“Food justice is a big part of who we are,” said Michael Kantor, Interim Director at Grow Dat Youth Farm, who stressed the program’s primary purpose to develop youth leadership skills. “Black farmers in particular have historically been marginalized so we create opportunities here to give young people of different races the chance to take control of food production, either here or in their neighborhoods, and increase access to fresh healthy produce—something many New Orleans neighborhoods do not have.”
Grow Dat Youth Farm partners with nine local schools to recruit around 60 high school students annually. Starting January, these youth Crew Members participate in a paid, five-month leadership program held after school and on Saturday that prioritizes diversity and inclusion. The program time is evenly split between lessons on sustainable food, cooking, and farming, and team-building and leadership exercises. Graduates of the program are invited to enroll in the next tiered leadership position as Assistant Crew Leaders; a fellowship program brings in extra help around the year.
“Our farm is pretty active from September to June,” said Michael. “That’s when we’re harvesting crops for the CSA, our main distribution channel that starts in October, or for the Crescent City Farmers Market or farm stand. We’ve also sold to restaurants and have been in Whole Foods too. We donate 30% of our food to households without access through our Shared Harvest program.” Grow Dat Youth Farm has donated over 26,000 pounds of food.
In addition to funding from grants, donors, and market sales, Grow Dat Youth Farm raises funds through their seasonal farm dinners, where they invite celebrated local chefs to cook up locally focused, family-style meals on the farm. This year’s first farm dinner, on September 28, features chefs from Cochon and Peche, while the October 8th dinner features a chef from Shaya. Tickets are still available for these farm dinners. Learn more information about Grow Dat Youth Farm by following the link below.
Images © Lucy Wang