The Pelican Cooperative Talks About NOAHH’s New Orleans HUG Fresh Food Initiative

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Over a year ago, NOAHH began its New Orleans Habitat Urban Garden (HUG) Fresh Food Initiative program. By engaging ten local agricultural, landscaping, and gardening groups and individuals around the city, NOAHH has begun partnerships that make use of our empty lots, saving us over $40,000 a year in maintenance costs. Each organization that has joined New Orleans Habitat in this endeavor has brought their own take on gardening. Some, like EcoUrban, use the lots for a soil building operation while also planting a fruit orchard, while others, like Capstone 118, created community gardens to answer the need for healthy food in their area. Over 30 lots are currently in use.

The total list of partners includes Supporting Urban Agriculture, Sankofa, Latino Farmer’s Cooperative of Louisiana, New Orleans Fruit Tree, Our Garden, John Tiebout, Sam Wershow, the aforementioned EcoUrban and Capstone 118, and Pelican Cooperative, whose Michelle Posey answered a few questions for NOAHH about her experiences:

NOAHH: How did the partnership with NOAHH begin?
Pelican Cooperative: We looked for a long time for a suitable place to garden. We grew tropical fruit, avocados and tomatoes in our backyards, but couldn’t afford to purchase enough land for a large garden within the New Orleans area. Finding the right site came from suggestions from the manager of a local farmer’s market and the chairman of the New Orleans Urban Farming Initiative. This led to a phone call to Habitat for Humanity; and interviews with [Habitat staff].

NOAHH: How did you and your family become involved with the gardens? What inspired you to get involved in this way?
Pelican Cooperative: My dad and I have always loved growing things. I grew up on 10 acres of woodland outside of Baltimore, where we always had a garden, and would wake up to see the odd deer or fox wandering through the yard in the early morning. My father must have inherited and passed on this love of nature and growing to me. His grandfather had a commercial venture growing blackeyed peas and okra on a 5 acre plot within his town.

New Orleans also provides some very unique opportunities for gardening. Its subtropical climate and rich delta soil make growing things a joy.

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: How many lots do you have gardens on? What do you grow?
Pelican Cooperative: We currently have gardens growing on 6 lots, and are in the process of developing and preparing 3 more (fencing/water/raised beds). We grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, from tomatoes, eggplant and cucumber to more exotic produce such as kiwano, mexican sour gherkin, and cape gooseberry.

NOAHH: What do you do with what you grow?
Pelican Cooperative: We sell our produce locally to restaurants and local farmers markets. We also make time to donate vegetables to local churches and neighborhood residents. We feel very fortunate to have been leased this land in the 9th ward of New Orleans. We try to give back to the neighborhood and neighbors to show our gratitude. It is a great feeling to ring a doorbell and leave a bucket of ripe tomatoes on someone’s porch. After doing that once or twice, a stranger becomes a neighbor, and you learn the names to go with the faces.

NOAHH: How did those partnerships begin?
Pelican Cooperative: Hollygrove market expressed an interest in selling some of my father’s tropical fruits (guavas, papayas). My dad likes to tell the story of our connection with Root restaurant:

“The restaurant connections began when a friend stopped at my house after a fishing trip. He noted key limes and asked if they were of any use. I answered, ‘They make an outstanding pie.’ We picked a bushel. A couple of weeks later, he called to ask if I had more trees. Philip Lopez, the chef at Root, had enjoyed them, and wanted more. ‘I guess the restaurant sales part of the business started from there.'”