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Cultural “Apps” project Fari’s Fabulous Finds presents…

March 4, 2011

Gris Gris Lab’s Cultural “Apps” Project with writer/ethnographer Fari Nzinga

Fari’s Fabulous Finds

March Edition

 A collection of commentary, insights & interviews

by Fari Nzinga

There is a lot to be learned from the experiences of people who productively occupy urban spaces that are over-policed and under-funded.  Mrs. Jeanette Bell, and Mrs. Pam Broom are two such women.  Born and raised on a farm in Hazelhurst, MS, Mrs. Bell is a master gardner living and working right here in Central City.  Mrs. Broom has also chosen to center her work in Central City because that’s where she grew up.  Both of these women are long-time veterans of what have been newly termed the sustainable or urban agriculture movements.
    On a sunny monday morning, as the mist rose from the petals and leaves of her edible flowers, I sat with Mrs. Bell in her garden the Fleur D’Eden. Lamenting the deaths of her beautiful buds in last years’ winter freeze, Mrs. Bell busily swept and pruned, preparing for the Fleur D’Eden’s triumphant return.  Before Katrina, this place was bursting with colors, flowers, and fragrances, but with all the flooding after the 2005 levy failures Mrs. Bell’s garden has really suffered; there is no longer a market for her organic bouquets and arrangements. Instead she says “folks go to WholeFoods and buy long-stem roses and long-stem sunflowers, you’d think that people only have one tall vase at home!” So Mrs. Bell is changing her game plan, she’s growing parsley, and sage, and thyme and rosemary. She’s also growing begonias and violas, both gorgeous and edible flowering perennials.  Mrs. Bell sells her edible bouquets at local farmers markets and through word of mouth; she says it’s just one of many innovative strategies that urban Black people have deployed to feed their families or as a side hustle for extra income.
    And that’s just how Mrs. Broom got into urban farming she tells me, “because 9 times out of 10 you have to have a day job.”  Mrs. Broom is the founder of WandA, the Women and Agriculture Network; over the past 20 years she has gradually built up her capacity so that she can devote more and more of her time to doing the work she loves and feels called to do. Under WandA’s auspices Mrs. Broom operates the Sun Harvest garden, she offers agricultural consulting, technical assistance, social enterprise development and training to individuals and groups looking to grow gardens using sustainable practices — i.e. no pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Her first major WandA consulting project is a garden in the 9th Ward called Growing Desire. In June of 2010 Mrs. Broom was brought in to convert a vacant lot that was owned by the Desire Street Ministries into a vegetable garden. For almost a year, with the help of the young Black men of Ministries’ Boys Academy, they having been working to cultivate the soils so that seeds can grow. This Spring they are looking forward to planting.
    Mrs. Bell says “this is a country that relies too heavily on one state for its food supply — way too heavy.” Because of our over-dependence on California produce, Mrs. Bell recommends that “people need to start growing their own food because there is gonna come a time when the healthy stuff you’re just no gonna be able to afford.” While Mrs. Bell acknowledges that her vision of establishing an urban farm in the lower 9 may be a “pipe dream”, for now she hopes to work together with Gia and the students of the Gris Gris Lab’s Food Justice course to contribute fresh produce to their farmshare program. The farmshare’s mission is to build a food production network within and supported by local communities. While it is important to create a diversity of participation in food justice initiatives, the aim is to build community amongst the Food Justice participants and then to engage with Black residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to learn from and support traditional growing practices and foodways. The program will offer a box of fresh produce every week from sustainable gardens like Mrs. Bell’s Fleur D’Eden or Mrs. Broom’s Sun Harvest.  
    What is so great about the Gris Gris Lab farmshare is that is operates on the premise of abundance and seeks to share and redistribute that abundance. Master gardeners Mrs. Jeanette Bell and Mrs. Pam Broom are living examples of how to work from this framework. Although Central City and the 9th Ward tend to be known more for what they’re lacking lacking than anything else (high-achieving schools, grocery stores, safety & security), Sun Harvest and Fleur D’Eden prove that time, energy, and ingenuity are all that is necessary to begin to address community concerns. Mrs. Broom shared a story with me that illustrates this point. She says,

I had promised one of the young men that i’d bring him some greens from my Sun Harvest garden. And i was watching him just work that tiller. And i said to him ‘ok i’m gonna give you these greens but you have to report back to the group about how they came out. And one of the other guys said, ‘oh you don’t have to worry cuz he’s the chef of the project!’ Everybody in the project loves when he cooks. I just thought that was fabulous… It’s amazing. You look at these guys that you call ‘at-risk’ or you know, whatever the label is, and you have them in a situation like that. And you see that there’s so much more.
It’s one thing to learn from visionaries who with only a few dollars can turn a vacant lot into a beautifully sustainable and productive enterprise. It’s quite another to watch as they quietly encourage and empower their neighbors to do the same, thereby turning an individual act into a movement-building one.  Now that’s a Fab Find.

For more information about Pam’s work visit

http://civileats.com/category/food-access/

Pam Broom

WANDA( Women and Agriculture Network)

info@wandanetwork.com

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