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Capstone Community Gardens

Capstone Community Gardens is located in the lower ninth ward, one of the neighborhoods most drastically affected by Hurricane Katrina. The organization’s mission is to tackle food insecurity in a sustainable and community oriented fashion. They achieve this by employing a variety of techniques, such a aquaculture (with goldfish and koi), gardening on multiple plots (15) throughout the lower ninth ward, raising animals (goats, chickens and ducks) for fertilizer, capturing rain water, beekeeping, and using solar energy.

At Capstone, we split into two groups. One group worked on gardening, and the other cleaned out the animal cages. The animal waste was dumped in the compost pile, which will later be used to add nutrients to the garden soil. The gardening consisted of pulling weeds, planting vegetables, and distributing mulch and bits of cardboard. David explained to us how important it is to focus on both of these aspects- the animals and the plants. The balance between them is key and is what makes Capstone so successful and productive. Since it’s opened, they have given away 16,000-18,000 lbs of food! It was wonderful to participate in such a kind and helpful endeavor.

Morning Call Cafe

Yesterday we had the pleasure of meeting Mark Sanders, the founder of Basin Street Records. In nostalgic fashion, we met at the Morning Call Cafe, where Mark worked in 1978 and we had coffee and beignets for breakfast. He spoke to us about his label, the music industry in New Orleans, and his experiences with hurricane Katrina.

Mark started his record label in 1998. He worked with local jazz greats like Irvin Mayfield, Bill Summers, Kermit Ruffins, and Jason Marsalis. By 2005, the label had six full time employees and a work space. Then Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, bringing devastation and chaos to all aspects of life in New Orleans. Temporarily, Mark relocated to Austin, Texas. Despite losing the work space, his home, and many other obstacles, he stayed steadfast in his determination to pursue his passion and share the sounds of New Orleans with the world. He managed to keep the label alive by working out of coffee shops.

Since then, the label has made a miraculous rebound and seems to be as strong as ever. Currently, they have 3 full time employees and work out of Mark’s home. They are still putting out albums and finding fresh new artists that exemplify the spirit and resilience of New Orleans.

Fresh Ingredients

Yesterday, we visited the local Farmer’s Market to buy ingredients for our cooking class! We walked from the cooking school in the French Quarter through the Central Business district. The small congregation of white topped canopies looked like a fleet of sailing ships on a concrete sea. Under them, tables overflowed with vegetables, fruits, flowers, meats, cheeses- vibrant, fresh, and tenderly stacked in bins and boxes. In contrast to the relatively quiet, sleepy streets we walked to get there, the Farmer’s Market was lively and bustling.

We split into groups and shopped for the dishes we would prepare in class. My group was responsible for making potato salad. The people running the stand explained to us that the eggs we bought were from chicken grown on a local farm, free of cages, and were laid two days ago. Unlike the bleached white eggs you buy from grocery stores, these eggs were shades of soft, natural browns and tans. We told them that we were looking for celery, and they didn’t have that, but they had a similar plant called Lovage. They tore off a leaf, “Try it!” I popped in my mouth and it tasted just like celery (but a bit stronger). Pleasantly surprised, we reached for our money to buy the eggs and Lovage, but they insisted we have them for free. So sweet!

We have learned that New Orleans culture is inextricably tied to a strong sense of place. Shopping for local ingredients helped us see that first hand. The cuisine is tied to food that is available and fresh. As the seasons change, so do the dishes on people’s tables. As the strawberries were irresistibly bright and fragrant, we incorporated them into a dessert. This type of cooking and eating embraces the complexity of the local culture, and brings it to the table for us to experience it together.

Pre-trip ramble…

I am fully packed! Finally! (Probably… I seem to keep thinking I am done packing, and as soon as I zip my suitcase closed, I remember one more thing to pack) I made sure put my raincoat in my carry on in case it’s raining when we get there.

I am so excited that I feel like I will have a hard time falling asleep! I am especially looking forward to learning more about the ecology of the area, the restoration plan and how that was made, the food systems and New Orleans’ relationship with food, and the jazz music, of course!

The last time I was in New Orleans, I was there overnight as a tourist. I feel like I will notice so much more about the city now than I did then, since we have spent some time contextualizing it. I want to look out for plants, animals, environment types, the weather, the geography of the city, the culture, and how all these things come together to build the character of the city.