Margee Green for La Agriculture & Forestry Commissioner

Hello neighbors and friends
I hope you are finding some relief this hot and confounding summer, in some shady spot, on a beach, or (like me) if you are lucky enough to have friends’ pools and quiet porches offered to you here and there. Maybe like me, you also get out of the tropics for a bit; as some of you know, I spend much of the summer on the road, checking out farmers markets across the northern part of the US and seeing what other food systems are doing, while relying on my big sister’s hospitality and patience for my long stay. All of that self-care and the different examples allow me to maintain some optimism and excitement around food and farming even though I also see and hear a lot that is discouraging: the lack of farm land available for new and young farmers, the rapid and multiple effects of climate change on established farms, the number of health concerns among farmers (always in top 10 of the most dangerous professions and fishers are even higher -meaning worse- in that ranking), the attempt by the current administration to dismantle policy gains that benefit small farmers, and much more can make this stuff seem quixotic to say the least.
But I do have hope. My go-to writer/activist Rebecca Solnit has explained how we can have hope. She says: “It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. (Hope) is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.”
Today I sat for a few quiet hours on one of those borrowed porches with a young woman I know only slightly, and found more reason for hope. Her name is Margee Green, and she is running for Agriculture & Forestry Commissioner in Louisiana. Now you might think that is a pretty huge idea (and you are right) and maybe even think it’s nigh impossible for her to win, but let’s leave that for her to resolve and not start off by killing the hope. Instead let’s focus on how this state has still not figured out how to support a regional farming culture.
How true innovators like Grant and Kate Estrade of Local Cooling Farms, and Graison Gill from Bellegarde Bakery are not only NOT lauded by our elected officials for their incredible work, but instead are often labeled as troublemakers and their path made more difficult.
How farmers markets still have to fight to keep their name from being co-opted by other retail outlets who do none of things that farmers markets do every week and yet our agency does nothing to stop them.
How other states are growing the number of young or beginning farmers (Alaska had a 30 percent increase between 2012-17), or using US Ag Census data to show how some states are seeing real gains in committed purchasing for locally made goods; guess who is near the bottom?
Yeah, we have a lot to fix in how we view and talk about and how we organize around food here. But we can fix it, by learning from our neighbors and from each other and by building policies that benefit those direct relationships and those sustainable practices that reclaim the local food culture and may help save or delay our state from sinking into the gulf. I think one way to start is by asking for changes at the very top of our system: starting with our Department of Ag.  Asking OUR department to see and act as if the community food system is as at least as important as the commodity system that has been in place since the Company of the Indies tried  (and failed) to grow tobacco. And let’s ask them to calculate how that antiquated system has relied on devaluing land and labor and personage to produce those commodities.
One sure way to do that, to make them aware we won’t keep allowing business as usual, is to support Marguerite Green. So I hope you take a break from whatever stresses you these days and check out her page and see what you think. Go talk to her at the local events and markets where she can be easily found. Maybe it will offer you some relief. And maybe it will have an impact.
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Can the French Market be “saved”? (Part 2)

It was reported recently that our energetic and active mayor has decided to do something about the French Market. As a 20-year activist in food systems with a 40-year family residency in the French Quarter, I was certainly excited to hear that, although I think the setting has already been improved a great deal in recent years.The main reason this seems opportune is 1) the  limited availability of any public spaces in the city to try small, discrete pilots that center around cultural connections and entrepreneurial zeal means that this might be a unique moment, and 2) also because the current FM Director has been quietly impressive.

Part 2 (Part 1 here) of my four part post:

then Katrina happened:

By September of 2005 while still in exile, we (meaning the parent org of the Crescent City Farmers Market, then known as ECOnomics Institute) created an online bulletin board and chat room for our vendors and for customers of the Crescent City Farmers Market to keep in touch and to tell us when and where they wanted the markets reopened.

Once we knew that we could come back and reopen farmers markets in New Orleans ( because enough producers had product, enough consumers wanted fresh food, and we had places to live) we began to discuss where to put them. Because the “sliver by the river” area of town had not flooded, we knew it would be one of those areas. This was not to ignore the flooded areas, but since any and all space for construction drop off or house demo had to come first,  a pop up market was simply in the way in those early days.  The Girod Street market location had some damage, so that was out. That left the French Market and Uptown Square as the two locations under consideration, but we quickly realized that the French Market was barely functioning.

Even so,  we were still trying to help them by meeting with its director in those early days. I remember that we had dinner with him in early October, discussing how to use the French Market to help rebuild the city. We suggested that they allow Red Cross to use it as a station, and to have city departments set up there. Unfortunately, none of that happened for various reasons, probably most due to the inertia of the complicated system that the French Market was and is managed under.  It is important to point out that the public-private partnership it operates under is hard enough, and then one must take in its multiple roles:

  • the largest manager of city-owned historic property which stretches from Jackson Square (and includes the upper Pontalba building) down to Esplanade (and that was before the Crescent Park opened);
  • the retail manager of all of the storefronts included in those properties;
  • the manager of the parking lots bordering the river and those on Elysian Fields;
  • the operator and manager of the 2 open sheds at the end of the French Market, including its hundreds of itinerant, permanent vendors;
  • one of the primary event creators and managers in the lower river section of the Quarter.

The reason I bring up the post Katrina era (and the earlier revival era that I wrote about in  Part 1) is because the future of this venerable place has a lot of baggage to carry with it, and also has some hard truths of the surrounding area that cannot be denied before we can discuss what to do. And the city is almost a completely different one that what existed on August 28, 2005. I’d like to see that history really analyzed, much more than I have done here, and make that analysis public.

For example, for any of us here at the time and now, it is clear that the post Katrina era gave the French Quarter some new life. Residents who still had property moved back in while they redid their own houses, others grabbed every rental available (which because there was no damage did not see its prices tripled as many other areas have done which was great cuz rents for larger, redone apartments there were already on the highest end of the spectrum), and -AND- the great luck of still having a walkable, vibrant area with public space, groceries, and cheery nightlife on the inner edge of the grey, sad, often toxic other 80% of our city was a comfort to all. So it became boom town for a little while and today, it still has an increase in renters and homeowners from the low population numbers it had a few decades previously.  The Homer Plessy Community School is livening up the corner of St. Philip and Royal,  a number of creative and unique shops are doing well (altho commercial space is at a premium), and a whole lot of activism and street life is still happening here. Interestingly though, still many locals repeat the old story about the French Quarter being “over” as a neighborhood when it is far from that.

That is another issue.

But in any case, the French Market didn’t capitalize on that boom. And unfortunately, lost great anchors such as Horst Pfeiffer’s Bella Luna who grew tired of waiting for his building’s roof to be repaired.

It simply didn’t have the structure or even the mandate to do capitalize. Instead, it remained an gentle afterthought in a booming Quarter, Marigny, Bywater which were (are) full of millennials terrified of being seen as participants in any setting that lacked an ironic twist or didn’t include a new take on an old place.

The French Market did however, add some very interesting counter restaurants in the sheds who continue to animate that very difficult space. And it also moved community radio station WWOZ into the Red Store building.  And the Dutch Alley Artists Co-op continues to attract local artists willing to operate the storefront as a collective. How do those additions change it is the question. Do they?  Are they as important to this French Market as Cafe du Monde and the Creole Tomato Festival were to earlier users?

And how does the new New Orleans (shudder) and the new life in the Quarter affect what is or should happen at the French Market?

 

 

 

-Part 3 will focus on the flea market on the end of the French Market, which must be dealt with, even though its history and its activity is not all as horrible as some residents make it out to be. As a place to show off the diversity of the entrepreneurial community new and venerable, it wears that well. The question is if newly arrived residents are still able to access the French Quarter?  The shift in population for immigrant communities moving away from the city center and to the suburbs and even rural areas seems to make the idea of a French Market business a little less ideal for those communities. The answer may be found in some sort of a organized incubator for those business at the French Market or even assistance in product development that may even cater to residents as well as visitors…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s “New Orleans”

The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress began in 1937, and was formerly known as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.  The present title was devised and authorized by an Act of Congress in 1985. The Poet Laureate’s office is administered by the Center for the Book.The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is appointed annually by the Librarian of the United States Congress and serves from October to May. In making the appointment, the Librarian consults with current and former laureates and other distinguished personalities in the field.
 “New Orleans”  by Joy Harjo
This is the south. I look for evidence
of other Creeks, for remnants of voices,
or for tobacco brown bones to come wandering
down Conti Street, Royal, or Decatur.
Near the French Market I see a blue horse
caught frozen in stone in the middle of
a square. Brought in by the Spanish on
an endless ocean voyage he became mad
and crazy. They caught him in blue
rock, said
don’t talk.
I know it wasn’t just a horse
that went crazy.
Nearby is a shop with ivory and knives.
There are red rocks. The man behind the
counter has no idea that he is inside
magic stones. He should find out before
they destroy him. These things
have memory,
you know.
I have a memory.
It swims deep in blood,
a delta in the skin. It swims out of Oklahoma,
deep the Mississippi River. It carries my
feet to these places: the French Quarter,
stale rooms, the sun behind thick and moist
clouds, and I hear boats hauling themselves up
and down the river.
My spirit comes here to drink.
My spirit comes here to drink.
Blood is the undercurrent.
There are voices buried in the Mississippi mud.
There are ancestors and future children
buried beneath the currents stirred up by
pleasure boats going up and down.
There are stories here made of memory.
I remember DeSoto. He is buried somewhere in
this river, his bones sunk like the golden
treasure he traveled half the earth to find,
came looking for gold cities, for shining streets
of beaten gold to dance on with silk ladies.
He should have stayed home.
(Creeks knew of him for miles
before he came into town.
Dreamed of silver blades
and crosses.)
And knew he was one of the ones who yearned
for something his heart wasn’t big enough
to handle.
(And DeSoto thought it was gold.)
The Creeks lived in earth towns,
not gold,
spun children, not gold.
That’s not what DeSoto thought he wanted to see.
The Creeks knew it, and drowned him in
the Mississippi River
so he wouldn’t have to drown himself.
Maybe his body is what I am looking for
as evidence. To know in another way
that my memory is alive.
But he must have got away, somehow,
because I have seen New Orleans,
the lace and silk buildings,
trolley cars on beaten silver paths,
graves that rise up out of soft earth in the rain,
shops that sell black mammy dolls
holding white babies.
And I know I have seen DeSoto,
having a drink on Bourbon Street,
mad and crazy
dancing with a woman as gold
as the river bottom.

 

Covenant House becomes Curfew House for the summer

At the request of the NOPD Chief and Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Covenant House has been asked to open a curfew/prevention center this summer for at-risk youth, ages 10-16.

“I think the police are going to come across young people who don’t know where they’re at or where they’re going, and could be on the verge of getting themselves in trouble, and they’re going to bring them here. We will feed them just like any Mother would. And along the way, we’ll try and find out if there’s any issues; why are they out late at night and no one knows about it?” – Jim Kelly, Executive Director

And the other viewpoint:

City curfew marginalizes kids it pretends to ‘protect’

 

Gulf marine life in great danger from diversion of flood levels of Mississippi River

As an unprecedented amount of floodwater makes its way down the Mississippi River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway at New Orleans for the second time this year.

Corps officials try to limit spillway openings to minimize the impact of invasive freshwater species entering Lake Pontchartrain, as one of those impacts could be harming marine life. St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis says they have documented 26 dolphin deaths in the past two months, and most of the animals had freshwater lesions. Though Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries officials have not made a direct link to the influx of fresh river water, officials in coastal Mississippi have after conducting a number of dolphin necropsies.

For oystermen, the opening of the spillway is always a cause for concern because it leads to plummeting water salinity levels as the freshwater suddenly dilutes the estuary’s brackish waters, which can kill the oysters they harvest.

As of June 6, 2019, the news is that our other spillway will open to reduce pressure on the levees. Most folks in New Orleans are largely unaware of the Morganza Spillway, including where it is!

 

So, here is some good information on the Morganza Spillway:

 

Morganza Spillway

 

Maspero’s founder passes

Once upon a time Cafe Maspero was one of most locals’ favorite places both in its original location on Chartres, and then its Decatur Street location. I remember many fine sandwiches there always paired with excellent service – that is, until it was sold a few years back.

An article about Maspero’s and Charlie that  was first published in The Community Standard magazine in Volume 1, No. 4, February 1975.