The Lower 9th Ward is probably the most devastated neighborhood in New Orleans. It is (was) a predominantly an African-American area with an unprecedented 90% home ownership. Today, the neighborhood is recovering very slowly. I have volunteered there over the past few years and there is no comparison with the level of devastation anywhere else. There is really no infrastructure and the residents face so many challenges to return to their homes.
The neighborhood was served for food by Blair Grocery, named after George Blair, an African American home and business owner. Today, in order to buy fresh produce, one needs to take two buses across town. There is a 7-11, but the food there is extremely processed.
The Blair family generously allowed a young visionary teacher, Nat Turner, together with friends, to build a community garden and what might become an after school or even an independent school for the neighborhood. Volunteering to create the garden is a lesson in food justice and we returned from our week with them feeling very motivated to get involved with food activism.
Here is the vision as seen through the eyes of Turner.
The strength of the neighborhoods and parishes of New Orleans were built on the concept of community. Those who are returning to the Lower 9th face many obstacles. This community will only truly recover on the strength of its community, and community projects such as Blair Grocery will be a huge asset.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com