It would be hard to count the number of backyard and kitchen gardens currently being tended in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. Many are cultivated by residents whose families have been rooted in the community for generations. After the levee breach during Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the neighborhood, Backyard Gardeners Network formed to uplift the cultural tradition of food gardening—to help revitalize both the physical landscape and the intangible, powerful sense of community.
Backyard Gardeners Network inspires people to re-connect with the spirit of self-sufficiency and to embrace the longstanding food-growing traditions and cultural heritage of this historic black neighborhood. They’ve created several vibrant greenspaces on land left blighted after Hurricane Katrina as a platform to share this message.
At the Network’s two community gardens, families congregate and socialize, grow vegetables and nurture fruit trees. The Laurentine Ernst Garden is named after the local woman who led her own neighborhood revitalization effort, pre-Katrina: she could be seen faithfully hauling water in buckets to her plants on the St. Claude Avenue “neutral ground” every day. After Katrina, neighbors organized to restore the garden. At the historic cottage on the grounds, people find shade, rent tools, borrow books and get free seeds and starter plants for launching gardens in their own backyards.
At the Guerrilla Garden, neighbors grow vegetables in ten garden plots. BGN's Lower 9 Growing Strong project is staged there as well: six afternoons a week, families join in for programming like hands-on gardening, art, storytelling, cooking classes, food celebrations and Black history and culture events. The Food as Medicine project will take place in the shade structure and outdoor kitchen space here.
The Food as Medicine workshop series will bring local chefs and health advocates to the Backyard Gardeners Network community. The free series will guide residents in a lively, hands-on exploration of medicinal food, healthy cooking and gardening for vibrant health.