Loyola University students from several on-campus organizations participated in environmental restoration projects on Sunday, February 9, 2020 at Crown Community Gardens and the Acorn Farm. Each site hosted about 25 students as they participated in a service day experience. The aim of service-learning is to promote intention and reflection through a more cognizant effort. This means that public service and civic engagement are aligned with students’ studies.This shows that there’s a link between how learning in the classroom can be applied outside the classroom to solve injustices.
Loyola describes the purpose of community engagement “[to] prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good”. Similar to their neighboring institution Tulane, Loyola University requires students to complete service hours and participate in service-learning. Their service-learning courses require students to complete 20-25 hours at a partner site. Each student is required to complete 120 service hours before graduation. In a city like New Orleans that has been negatively affected by ignorant policy decisions, it’s imperative to give back in meaningful ways. Universities in the city use service learning as a tool for students to contribute to the city.
This is especially relevant to students at Tulane, where 69% of the student body come from the top 5% median household income in the country.
Projects at the partner sites were focused on environmental restoration. At Crown Community Garden, the tasks were primarily weeding and seeding. The projects were divided amongst three groups: adding growing beds, weeding the plant boxes, and planting seeds for herbs to grow. While the community partner was explaining the tasks, she also provided the reasoning behind it, as the ecology of New Orleans East is unique and has to be cared for in a specific way.
The project is important because it encourages group work and teaches volunteers more about the environmental landscape of New Orleans. The volunteers learned about the unique boggy ecosystem of New Orleans East, and how it allows certain species to flourish while others fail.
As Loyola students rounded out the day at Crown Community Garden, they were invited to give feedback and voice challenges. One student pointed out that a lot of students who volunteered were leaders in their community, and it was a challenge being the one taking directions rather than leading the group.
Food justice and access to healthy food is a critical issue in New Orleans. The focus area of Crown Community Gardens is to deliver fresh produce to communities in places where food access is limited, specifically healthy food like fresh produce. They operate similar to a co-op and have a focus on sustainable gardening. The Crown Community Garden produces fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Food access has historically been an issue disproportionately affecting majority black neighborhoods in New Orleans. According to a study on neighborhood food access conducted by a team at Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in 2009 the percentage distribution in African American neighborhoods with more than one supermarket was 8.7%, whereas in a racially mixed neighborhood it was 34.1%. This is statistically significant.
New Orleans has attempted to address this problem in the past. Community gardens and urban agriculture was on the rise in the 1980s, then dwindled due to an economic decline, and post-Katrina it became more prevalent. Katrina greatly affected supermarket access for many New Orleans residents. Supermarket access did not improve post-Katrina until about four years later. Urban farms are more prevalent in New Orleans. They range in scale, from smaller gardens more focused on the community to large scale producers, such as Grow Dat Youth Farm in City Park.
In 2008, Tulane published a report with specific recommendations about how to make healthy food more accessible across New Orleans neighborhoods. The recommendations were policy-related. These included creating a federal nutrition program, another was to develop a state-run program to subsidize the development of supermarkets and farmer’s markets in underserved areas.
Some recommendations included creating a federal nutrition program. Another was developing a state-run program to subsidize the development of supermarkets and farmers markets in underserved areas. At a policy level, New Orleans is addressing the issue to some degree. In 2007, the Food Policy Advisory Committee was established. They published a comprehensive guide that addresses questions like which government entities are responsible for food policy. According to the guide, food policy is defined as “any policy that impacts the growing, processing, distributing, selling, and consumption of food”.
Some entities within food policy are nutrition entitlement programs, national hunger programs, food retail, and agriculture and farming. There are programs that operate on a macro level - like national and state - and there are programs at the local level. Some programs at the national level include entitlement programming, child nutrition programming, and USDA food nutrition and funding. At the state level, there is SNAP and WIC. According to the guide, some other resources that address inequities in the food system are National Young Farmers Coalition, Union of Concerned Scientists and Feeding America. In 2019, the Food Policy Advisory Committee published a report explaining that a new permitting process is needed for food pop-ups. Tulane’s Center for Public Health and Tropical Medicine has also taken strides to address the issue. In 2018, Tulane nutrition published a guide called “Resource Guide to Innovative Work in Food & Nutrition in New Orleans”. Tulane Nutrition is a subsidiary of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. The guide includes information about groups in New Orleans responsible for growing and selling food, at many different levels. Urban farms and neighborhood gardens are an important step towards food justice in New Orleans. They create a bond among residents, and their existence depends on grassroots efforts and not policy. Volunteering with groups, such as Crown Community Gardens and Acorn farm, allow them to exist and continue to deliver produce to communities around New Orleans.
Check out more photos from our service day with Loyola University here.