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Urban Gardeners Are Laying Down Roots for Black ‘Food Sovereignty’ In New Orleans

For years, accessibility to fresh food has remained limited for low-income Black and Brown communities. Fortunately, urban gardeners in New Orleans are working to level the playing fields in their neighborhoods.

New Orleans is well known as the hub for the most delicious Creole food in the world. However, its otherwise rich agricultural history has been paved with adversity, especially for Black citizens. The “crescent city” has many food deserts that leave its Black residents unable to regularly purchase healthy options—and the lack of access is no accident.

Planting seeds of change, urban gardeners have taken the initiative to serve the communities that need them most. Reedy Brooks, urban gardener and executive director of the edible holistic landscaping firm GloryGardens, trains people in greenhouse management and plant nursery care. During an interview with Prism Reports, she explained that she’s not just interested in “food justice”; she believes true liberation comes from “food sovereignty,” meaning neglected communities create their own gardens—for themselves and by themselves.

Companies strategically place (or don’t place) grocery stores in specific neighborhoods, based on socioeconomic and racial status. While organizations like the National Black Food and Justice Alliance work to promote Black food sovereignty in those areas, food insecurity is still the status quo.

According to the Center for Planning Excellence, the city’s lacking government infrastructure made the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic even more devastating in terms of food access. About 35 percent of low-income Black neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color in New Orleans face food insecurity.

The lack of healthy food options are even more dismal for Black people living in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, who, according to the U.S. The Census Bureau, account for over 90 percent of residents in that area. Still haunted by empty lots, debris, toxins and other environmental stains from Hurricane Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward has been delayed in development compared to the rest of the city for years.

2012 provided even more evidence of structural food disparity when student journalist, Rosa Ramirez from the New York Times Student Journalism Institute gathered data using a study from SocialCompact and additional resources. Her research revealed New Orleans had “only one supermarket for every 350,000 residents, and they are often in locations that are more than a mile from where low-income residents live.” As generations have endured cyclical food scarcity within certain neighborhoods, local organizations and activists are working hard to bridge that gap.

Urban gardener Krystle Sims-Cameron is the founder of the nonprofit For the HortiCulture. As an avid gardener, she helps Black women in New Orleans start home gardens of their own. After being financially strapped during the pandemic herself, Sims-Cameron now not only supports her family but other New Orleans locals as well.

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While the work continues, Black and brown communities in New Orleans are doing what they do best: persevering. Organizations like Sprout Nola, Navigate Nola, Project Butterfly New Orleans and more are advocating for environmental justice and systemic change. The time for liberation has been ripe for the picking for years, and people like Sims-Cameron will continue harvesting resources for food sovereignty.

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