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Capstone 2018

We are back for our third (fourth?) year lending hands to Capstone’s efforts to bolster healthy, secure food systems across the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.

Every year things continue to expand and deepen. From the aquaculture tanks and hydro-grow beds we helped install in years past to the expanding menagerie of fertilizer-producing domestic mammals and bird, everything here is quite literally growing.

Work Crews

When we get to Capstone, our mantra is always the same: tell us what you, we are here to work hard. This year students went to work cleaning out animals pens, mowing grass, and planting crops at several of Capstone’s lots across the Lower 9th Ward.


In addition to our regular work, we offered to help David create an array of maps documenting the 15 parcels Capstone currently owns and/or farms. David has a DJI Spark which has proved useful in pre-storm roof monitoring, etc. but is not quite enough to get up in the air in some of the gusty winds we have here. Additionally, he lacks any structure from motion or other photostitching software to stitch together a collage of images. Turns out we are (of course) the perfect fit for such coastal mapping needs. We spent the afternoon flying their various garden plots. Once we get home we will toss these images into our Pix4D mapping computer and out will pop some high resolution maps of Capstone’s existing facilities as of March 23, 2018.


One of my favorite dishes to make on special occasions is crab stuffed mushrooms, so I thought maybe we could re-create it here in New Orleans Cooking School. The Crescent City Farmers Market didn’t have mushrooms quite big enough for stuffing, so we improvised, which turned out to be a lot more fun than sticking to the normal recipe. We picked from what was available and ended up with something totally different! Michael had some Louisiana blue crab claw meat already available for us, so all that was left was mixing together some extra ingredients.

We pulled “heart of the ox” tomatoes and sweet bell peppers to scoop out and make serving boats, added a lemon spiced pesto, shitake mushrooms for extra meatiness, onions, cajun seasoning, lemon, and topped it with bread crumbs and mozzarella cheese. We pressed the bottoms of the boats into some extra cajun seasoning and, per request, experimented with a little paline oil drizzle. The stuffed vegetables baked at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until the veggies were nice and tender with gooey cheese on top.

Because we had gooey fingers, we avoided using our phones, but were lucky enough to have Kev on the job! We re-payed him with a stuffed red bell pepper. Bon apetit!


How Yesterday Made Today…

As the stories of our beautiful dishes and recipes continue to expand online, we are invited to acknowledge how we brought farm to table for today’s Cooking School. It’s called the Crescent City Farmer’s Market, and it’s where Michael takes our NOLA crew each and every year right before our class gets together and cooks, in order to buy fresh, local food for a budget of $20 per dish – to feed 17 people. Michael’s greatest emphasis – aside from taking advantage of his position in order to discuss history and culture – is that we can feed the masses honest, healthy meals on a reasonable budget, and the cooking school provides an outlet for that.

On our walk over to the market, Michael shared a lot about the rich history and current state of the New Orleans lifestyle. “Local” to New Orleans means a 250 mile radius. The point of the Farmer’s Market was originally to bring the central business district back to the French quarter. Michael spoke a lot about the economic climate, the complicated nature of taxes and law changes, property ownership, etc. For instance, traditionally there are two floors to each building – the store on the first, and the residents on the second. Taxing and maintenance issues are moving businesses out of the city, however, and it is consequently becoming more residential. There seemed to be an obvious connection between the significance of the farmer’s market in relation to placement, business, and bringing that sense of welcoming and personality back to the home streets of the French Quarter and the American District.

Our trip to the market was fast, busy and exciting. We were encouraged to ask each vendor for their stories and origins, and after about 20 minutes of running around, blindly and frantically meal planning, we were ushered past the last few booths and on our way back to the cooking school. Memorable moments included a surprise from the cinnamon roll saleslady – a full time water quality professional! Exposure to an informative walk through of interesting cultural histories was a treat in itself, and the avocado popsicles weren’t bad either. In fact, they were kind of life changing.

Follow these links to learn about some of the ingredients for our recipes, and their origins!

– Aryana and Lauren 🙂

Capstone Community Garden

Today we started our morning by going shopping at a local farmers market for the ingredients to use in our cooking school that we’ll be attending tomorrow. After that excursion we ventured over to Capstone which is a nonprofit that provides community gardens for the people in the Lower Ninth Ward. We split off into teams and my team walked a few blocks over to work on one of the garden lots. We helped by weeding and planting some new vegetable plants. We planted eggplant, cucumber, and tomato. After we finished we went back to the main house and David gave us a tour and explained how the non-profit began. In addition to all of the gardens, there were goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and several beehives on the property. The eggs from the chickens are eaten and all of the animal waste is used as fertilizer. Capstone was such a great place and I would definitely go back if I’m ever back in NOLA.


Jeyla and I were asked to help with the aqua culture garden. There was a small pond containing koi fish and catfish. As Jeyla explains in the video, the fish urine produces ammonia which is then converted into nitrates by the algae that occurs in the water. The nitrate helps to fertilize the plants floating in the pond while also using less water to water the plants. We both helped plant new seeds into the floating pots.


Grow Dat & New Orleans Jazz Orchestra

Today we visited a nonprofit organization called Grow Dat. This program creates opportunities for youth in the Louisiana area to experience real responsibilities of having a job, while also providing a useful service to the public. The following positions are available through the program:

  • Grow Dat Youth-The farm aims to create a healthy and supportive work environment for high school-aged youth from New Orleans who face limited job opportunities. 
  • Grow Dat Apprentice- This Grow Dat adult program is an opportunity for adults interested in advancing their knowledge and skills in sustainable urban agriculture to learn through hands-on experience, instruction and support from mentor farmers.
  • Volunteer- Individuals (ages 10 and above, minors must be accompanied by guardians) are welcome to help with farm tasks such as weeding, non-native plant removal and harvesting on select days during the 2015–16 farm season. 
  • Farm Share CSA-Farm Shares are a form of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a way for the community to become “member-investors” who receive a weekly portion of the farm’s harvest during the growing season. 


March Schedule of Activities


A view of part of the farm

We picked weeds and cleaned up some of the garden beds so that the produce can be harvested and enjoyed another lovely afternoon in the gardens.   

Basil, Lettuce, & Arugula


This evening we attended a show- 50 Shades of Miles. A true New Orleans event.  

Show Program



    On Tuesday we went to a place called Capstone, located in the lower 9th ward of Louisiana. The lower 9th ward was one of the most dramatically damaged places after Katrina, and there is a very serious problem concerning food availability there because of that damage. The existence of a farm in a place like this would be special on its own, but what makes this place even more special is that all the produce grown here is grown through a process called aquaculture 

    Greenhouse at Capstone


    Foundation of a House in the Lower 9th Ward

       It’s amazing and really inspiring, actually, to see the ways in which New Orleans citizens have answered back to such devastation. 

    Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

    When you really get up close and deeply examine a topic from a scientific perspective, I have found that (along with the data collected) you establish a deep connection with that subject. And when that subject is a place, a connection can be felt to the whole environment; its plants, animals, people and culture. This is true about my time spent in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Crescent City has a certain romance to it. It has a vibe. The people who call it home are so passionate about their city by the river. The English Turn Forest that we crisscrossed with transect tape and spent so many hours breaking down to the last Sambucus canadensis is alive. When one is still and patient one can hear it breathe.

    But the city is a beautiful disaster, a place of paradox and a place of dilemma. A common theme in the history of humanity is our futile attempts to dominate natural systems instead of constructing our existence in harmony with those processes. Southeastern Louisiana is a great example of our folly in this regard. There are those that would claim New Orleans should be abandoned, that it is not worth saving and we should move to higher ground. By this reasoning, should we relinquish our homes in California because an earthquake might bring them crumbling down around us, or because a fire might reduce them to ashes? We are so quick to judge those folks for living in a city beneath the sea. It will not be easy to save this forest or save this city. But just because something isn’t easy, just because something is unpopular, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. The worst thing we can do is nothing at all.

    As much as I have learned about New Orleans, about plants and snakes and music and food, I have learned even more about myself. There are a few moments that stick in my mind, but one was particularly moving. We planted a garden in Buras, on Carol Arsenoe’s property.  Carol revealed that our spring visit was the most exciting time of the year for him. This man and his family, in a humble home by the river, was touched by what we did for him. In that moment I realized that the Service Learning trip that we had embarked upon was so much more than some field experience for ourselves to further our own education and career. It was a chance to contribute to something much bigger than ourselves. Where before I saw our garden as a small overall contribution, a tiny plot with a few peppers and corn and tomatoes, I knew then that for at least one man and his community, it meant the world. These folks in Louisiana love their home enough to return and rebuild even after losing everything. Their passion and tenacity is inspirational, and we owe them (at the very least) our respect.

    What is the takeaway here? I have learned that as a student of Environmental Science and as a human being there is the potential to work for something greater than myself. I have learned that however easy it is to be cynical and pessimistic about our species and the choices we have made, the human spirit can still surprise you in a beautiful way– if only you can open your eyes and let it.