Urban Garden as Sustainable Business in New Orleans

Good ideas have a life of their own.  That’s what Paul Baricos, Executive Director of the Hollygrove Growers Market and Farm (HGMF) in New Orleans is learning two years after the Carrolton-Hollygrove Community Development Center (CHCDC) set out to figure out how to bring fresh produce to a neighborhood with no real access to affordable food.

The result of this initial vision, and perhaps ten iterations later, is a one-of-a-kind one-acre urban produce and garden center located in the New Orleans community of Carrolton-Hollygrove.  Initiated just two short years ago in partnership with the New Orleans Food & Farm Network, the site is in its fledgling stages of a well mapped out multi-use center.  “We began this journey simply trying to figure out how to bring fresh produce to an under-served community. What has evolved is a vision for this center to be a resource for urban gardening that delivers fresh produce”, relayed Paul.

A grant from Aveeno, an all natural skin-care company, put the market visually on the map. Students from the Tulane School of Architecture designed and are in the finishing stages of construction on an entrance pavilion that includes a patio, cistern fed irrigation center, and multi-use shed.  The signature patio structure with a butterfly-design rain capture system, has already hosted several events and Paul projects that this patio may play a central role in the center’s operation by hosting tastings, book sales or other community events.

With the exception of the offices that will house a coming store front, the rest of the land is dedicated to farming.  Per Baricos, “We have set aside plots for any of our community members who do not have garden space at home and we have two master growers who advise and train those members growing here or in their backyards.”    Two large demonstration sites will be a central resource for training, visiting classes and hobby groups.   And there are even plans to build out two chicken coops to provide fresh organic eggs and fertilizer for the farm.

Miscellaneous grants have helped establish the center but the need to be self-sustainable came early. Proving that innovation really is born of need, HGMF established the Buyer’s Club last October as a means to pay the rent. Membership in the Buyer’s Club costs $25/week for which each member receives a box of fresh produce collected from backyard growers, community gardens, local urban micro-farms and nearby rural farms.   Through experimentation, HGMF settled on a formula whereby each member picks up a box of fresh produce every Saturday. “They provide a such a great selection of both fruits and veggies and you get plenty of food”, said Angie Green, a big fan and a Buyer’s Club member.

The center has also begun issuing recipes, storage suggestions and many other useful tidbits in response to member request each Saturday.   Members can now go to the web site for weekly “box recipes” to inspire use of the array of produce they receive each week.
And intended for opening within the next few months, the Buyer’s Club will add a retail store to the mix.  With set hours, the center will add local organic milk and meats to its current offerings to provide a sorely needed affordable food market to the community, fulfilling its mission to be a fresh food resource to the neighborhood.

The center is a work in progress but as with all endeavors, evolution brings about robust change based on market demand.  The HGMF will no doubt continue its reformulation, but with the goal of creating an urban farm it seems they are well on their way to doing more than supplying food to a needy community. Its unique plan to act as a training center for community and commercial purposes has all the makings of a much needed neighborhood hub.  Social entrepreneurship defines itself through the social impact of a sustainable business model.  The Hollygrove Market and Farm is demonstrating that their model can be grown from the ground up.