New Orleans, La. –
Excitable chickens greet visitors to a coop tucked away behind a Kenner landscaping nursery not far from the river. This is only their temporary home, however. Soon, this boisterous flock will relocate to a new farm now under development by the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana where they'll produce a lot more than eggs.
Like the fruit and vegetables to be grown there, they represent money in the bank, better food security at home and perhaps even the path to greater inclusion and a stronger community for the local Latino farmers who nurture them. Girasol Romero, a wife, mother and recent immigrant from Mexico, explains what it means to her.
"It makes me feel kind of like a piece of home, you know, because I can still keep my old traditions that I used to do at home like farming," she says. "I have a garden that I've started at my own house. You know organic living is much better. A lot of people in Latin America live that way, you know. So it makes me feel more at home to be able to keep going with traditions and growing and farming and things. "
The Latino Farmers Cooperative was formed in 2008 by executive director Kathia Duran and her fellow churchgoers who wanted to help the greatly expanded local Latino population get settled and become self-sufficient in their new home.
Food is a powerful tool to unite people and relieve stress. And so that's the area we are working on, in poverty, hunger relief and building the community," says Duran.
When this nonprofit's new farm is complete, cooperative members will have access to land, equipment and even volunteer assistance. Meanwhile, the cooperative is working with other groups to develop its Urban Agriculture Center in Mid-City. At this food-focused community center, low-income Latinos will have access to a shared commercial kitchen to transform surplus harvests into value-added products. For instance, a summer crop of tomatoes could become marketable salsa, and along the way perhaps incubate some grassroots businesses.
"That's a solution," says Duran. "That you don't need to rely on handouts. That if you give the community tools and resources, they are able to be sustainable for the long run."
While Girasol Romero says household farming was always part of her culture back home, she's learned much more as a cooperative member. The 22-year-old now serves on the organization's board, where she's learning about nonprofit management, about fundraising, and about her own leadership potential.
"I'm happy to be with this. I'm happy to dedicate a big part of my life for this," she says. "And you know, it gives people a lot to do. It gives me a feeling of responsibility, you know, it gives me a sense of more purpose than just being a Latino woman in the United States or just being a housewife at home you know, it makes me feel a lot better, you know, I have activity, I'm very active, I have things to do, I feel useful in the world. (It's) having a sense of pride and being able to help out my community and help my family at the same time."
Learn more about the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana here.