March 22, 2019

In New Orleans, this nonprofit empowers young people through farming

Meet the finalists for the 2019 Renewal Awards, a program of The Atlantic and Allstate. Five winners will receive a $20,000 prize from Allstate.

Grow Dat Youth Farm is teaching young people in New Orleans the skills to cultivate the land and feed their neighborhoods. Photo courtesy of the nonprofit

Editor’s note: Meet the finalists for 2019 The Renewal Awards. The annual program that honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities is a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. This year, five winners each will receive a $20,000 prize from Allstate. Winners will be announced April 3 at The Renewal Summit in New York City. You can watch a live stream of the event, which begins at 9:30 a.m. EDT, on our Facebook page.

In New Orleans, food is inextricably connected to the city’s culture and identity. But in a city where there are wide disparities in neighborhood access to fresh food—especially for some of the city’s poorest residents—nonprofits like Grow Dat Youth Farm are filling in the gaps to provide access to healthy food for all residents.

At Grow Dat Youth Farm, farmers mentor young people through the process of growing fruits and vegetables that will help to sustain their community. The nonprofit operates a two-acre farm in New Orleans’s City Park, where students get paid for their work on the farm—growing, harvesting, and selling the produce.

Founded in 2011, the program started as an idea to provide after-school jobs to students while also supplying their neighborhood with access to fresh produce. Youth participants not only get a lesson in growing healthy, sustainable food, but also in food justice and community leadership.

[ Read: Meet the finalists for the 2019 Renewal Awards ]

“Farming becomes this key element for teaching young people to learn how to work together to address a social problem, and food justice which allows us to have conversations about equity issues and justice issues through the lens of food,” said founder Johanna Gilligan, in this video from their website.

Through Grow Dat’s paid, five-month Leadership Program, students spend half of their time getting their hands dirty on the farm and the other half in educational workshops and skill-building activities on site, at partner organizations, and on field trips, according to their website. Each year, more than 70 students participate in their leadership programs.

Grow Dat also offers classes in cooking and nutrition, a key element in how it is building a more sustainable community. In New Orleans, neighborhood disparities in access to fresh food were acute before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. After the storm, researchers at Tulane University found that they had only gotten worse.

Each year, the nonprofit’s farmers harvest an average of 25,000 pounds of fresh produce, 70 percent of which is sold at local farm stands and farmers markets. The remaining 30 percent is distributed through the nonprofit’s Shared Harvest program, which supplies low-income residents with free produce.

Grow Dat also hosts dinners where members of the wider New Orleans community can learn about the farm, support its mission, and enjoy its harvest as prepared by chefs from local restaurants. Learn more about their upcoming events, including the Spring Harvest Dinner on the Farm in May.

Follow Grow Dat Youth Farm on Twitter @GrowDatNOLA. Donate to the nonprofit here.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.