New Orleans, La. –
The Thanksgiving table is set with more than food. It's set with lore, tradition and symbolism, and the dishes we bring to the holiday table often have stories behind them too, from heirloom recipes to this or that peculiar item that could be one family's holiday necessity. These days it's increasing likely that many of these stories will be told with distinctly local accents.
In the restaurant scene, buzzwords like "local," "seasonal" and "sustainable" are so very much in vogue that they can seem downright trendy. But more quietly, the spread of urban farming and community gardens around the city and an increasingly robust network supplying the produce of regional growers to city households means that local, seasonal, sustainably-grown food is more accessible today than it's been for generations. It has very quickly become a more viable option for New Orleans households to shop and cook in a way with deep and meaningful connections to this place and its people.
Rather than trendy it's actually a return to tradition, and after years of building momentum the local food marketplace around New Orleans seems to be booming today.
Begun 16 years ago, the Crescent City Farmers Market now runs three weekly markets downtown, Uptown and in Mid-City, and today other markets operate weekly all across the city and the region.
An important new resource in New Orleans is Hollygrove Market and Farm, which is an urban farm in its own right, a market for other small-scale farmers and artisan food producers around the area and an education center. Formed just three years ago, Hollygrove has developed a distribution system that includes five weekly locations around town, as well as door-to-door delivery of produce-filled market boxes each week.
Just last month, the New Orleans Food Cooperative opened its long-awaited grocery, a 4,800-sq.-ft. store in the Faubourg Marigny that specializes in naturally-grown local foods and is open to the public daily.
All across New Orleans, groups and individuals are converting more vacant lots and backyard spaces into vegetable gardens, either for personal use or to supply other households. Jeanette Bell has been at it for years, producing flowers, herbs and other produce from her Fleur D'Eden Community Garden in Central City and groups like the New Orleans Farm & Food Network and the Lower Ninth Ward-based Backyard Gardeners Network are helping many others get growing.
Another community garden network that's getting more New Orleans-grown food into local homes is NOLA Green Roots. People from all across the region have signed up as supporting members, and twice a month NOLA Green Roots delivers to them gargantuan hauls of food grown at its four local garden sites. More NOLA Green Roots sites are in the works, and just as importantly the organization has developed a management system and playbook aimed at helping enthusiasts anywhere replicate its model.
While these gardens can't hope to feed entire neighborhoods at this point, they're proving that a network of community gardens can supplement people's diets and help them eat healthier, while spreading a better understanding of where our food comes from.
As families gather for the holidays this year, having food like this on the table is really something to talk about.
Backyard Gardeners Network
Crescent City Farmers Market
Tues: 200 Broad St., 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Thurs: 3700 Orleans Ave., 3 p.m.-7 p.m.; Sat: 700 Magazine St., 8 a.m.-noon
Fleur D'Eden Community Garden
2111 Baronne St. New Orleans, phone n.a.