By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff WriterGrowing Local NOLA

This news plug (below) recently appeared in The Gambit to promote Growing Local NOLA’s community food and farming center, now open in the uptown area of New Orleans. Just another sign that the community is thrilled to welcome this new neighborhood gathering point.

And make no mistake — the center, which officially opened Saturday, goes way beyond the offerings of your basic farmers market. Of course, fresh produce will be planted, harvested and sold to the community at large. But there’s also a center stage for free physical fitness classes

(Zumba, salsaerobics, yoga, Hula Hooping); greenhouse, aquaponic and hyrdropnic gardening features for free community classes; and weekly nutritional cooking classes. Soon to be added — a healthy snack stand offering fruit-n-veggie smoothies, salads, zucchini pasta and fresh pesto dishes, sandwiches and more (mostly made from foods produced right out of the garden).

“This is about so much more than good food and drinks,” said Marianne Cufone, project director for Growing Local NOLA (a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana supported project). “This is about creating a healthy way of life!”

And clearly, much of the community is already on board. More than 200 people showed up for the inaugural event, which also included a three piece jazz band, singing, food samples, seedling give-aways and home-made jam sales. And volunteers are lining up to work the gardens (the list is already 30 strong and growing).

“I’m just overwhelmed by the response,” Cufone said. “In a good way. And by next year, we’ll have full time

programming here. It’s so exciting.”

 Sylvia Tran, who lives just a few blocks away, said she was delighted to see this formerly forgotten lot, located behind the upscale Houston’s restaurant along St. Charles Ave, finally turn into something useful.

“Just a few months ago, this was just a dirt lot covered with a bunch of trash and junk,” Tran said. “It was just a real eyesore. Now look at it. It’s so nice to see one of the city’s blighted lots turn into something really useful.”

And we must say how amazing it was to see our other Challenge Grant partners turning out to support this city’s newest milestone. Brec on the Geaux brought their mobile playground, Fit NOLA offered up their fitness instructors to lead classes, and GRoW leaders came out to investigate ways the two programs may work together in the future.

“To think this just a blighted lot,” said Schwarzman. “But it’s been turned into something new, something useful. I predict great things are going to happen here.”

And a good friend to the Challenge Grant initiatives, Ebony NeNe Williams, who is leading the charge on her own to create a new food hub in the west end of New Iberia, even drove all the way to New Orleans to support Saturday’s event. Surveying the Growing Local NOLAcrowd, she smiled.

“Sometimes a community doesn’t always see what they need until it’s put in front of them,” she said.

Indeed — just ask Meshawn Siddiq, whose three daughters had such a good time running around the farm center, the girls asked to blow off the movie they were set to see so they could play even longer. “We were supposed to just pop in for about 20 minutes,” mom said. “But when the girls saw the dancing and Hula Hooping and games and food… Well, my oldest turned to me and said, ‘We should just stay here — unless you want to leave and just go be lazy, mom!”

They stayed, of course.

See the project’s mention (below) in last week’s Gambit. And check back soon with the Growing Local Nola and Recirculating Farm Coalition websites for updated class schedules, volunteer opportunities and other community events.



Growing Local NOLA (1750 Carondelet St.;, an urban farm and community center in Central City, was set to host a grand opening Oct. 4.

  The center will serve as an education and demonstration farm that supports sustainable local food production through outreach, education, policy change and research. Growing Local NOLA also plans to offer classes on subjects including yoga and healthy cooking and provide space for urban farming in raised beds using recirculating farming techniques.

  Training for new farmers on the nitty gritty details of farming life as well as legal issues and green technology will be available, complete with a farming mentorship program.