Students revitalize community gardens around Broadmoor

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Sharon Lurye, Uptown Messenger

Tulane students clear out vegetation in the Broadmoor Food Forest as part of their class on Urban Agroecology and Sustainability in New Orleans.

Broadmoor is coming into full bloom this spring as the Broadmoor Improvement Association and Tulane students lead efforts to revitalize three local community gardens.

Two of the gardens – the Food Forest on Toledano Street near Dorgenois Street and another produce patch at the Broadmoor Community Church – will produce fresh herbs and vegetables for the Broadmoor Food Pantry.

A rain garden at South Miro and Gen. Taylor streets will help mitigate flooding and beautify the area with native plants like cattails, cypress trees and irises. 

The goal of the gardens is simple: “We grow food and we nurture plants to bring people together,” said Dorothy Jelagat Cheruiyot, a professor of ecology and biology at Tulane University.

Cheruiyot’s students are working as busily as bees in the Broadmoor gardens each week as part of internships and classes related to urban agroecology, as well as an additional garden at the New Zion Baptist Church in Central City. But the ultimate goal is to recruit neighborhood volunteers so that the lots will truly be sustainable community gardens, with an emphasis on the community.

“Although Tulane students are involved right now, and I really appreciate the different partnerships we have,” said Sarah Pritchard, executive director of the BIA, “We’re also actively working on plans for reaching Broadmoor residents so that we can get a robust crew of volunteers in the neighborhood who are excited about stewarding all three of these lots.”

Cheruiyot said she plans to have local volunteers fully in charge of the gardens “in five years max.”

To encourage more people to volunteer, there will be a day of service and celebrating on Saturday, April 10, from 9 a.m. to noon. There will be a walking tour of all three of the garden sites and family-friendly service projects at each lot, plus lunch.

Sharon Lurye, Uptown Messenger

Tulane professor D. Jelagat Cheruiyot examines a swamp lily with her student Shannon Cruz.

A group of Cheruiyot’s students from her urban agroecology class were in the Food Forest on a sunny Saturday morning in early March, digging their shovels in the dirt and hacking away at a dead banana tree with machetes.

The young adults laid the dried brown stalks at the bottom of concrete-lined garden beds, where they’ll be an excellent source of phosphorous. Tulane senior Shannon Cruz said that natural gardening tricks like using banana leaves for potassium or releasing ladybugs to eat pests are “some of the coolest things I’ve learned” in the class. 

“It’s integrated pest management,” she said, “but also more organic, natural solutions for growing plants, especially in an urban setting.” 

The Food Forest was established in 2015, but had lately fallen into disuse. The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, or NORA, owns the lot, leasing it to the BIA through the city’s Growing Green program. Community members had maintained the food forest for several years, but many have moved away or lost interest.

The rain garden faced similar issues. Numerous government and nonprofit entities were involved the garden, said Pritchard, including NORA, the BIA, the Land Trust for Louisiana and the Sewage & Water Board. But it wasn’t clear who was actually in charge of maintaining it. 

Seeing that the gardens were “overtaken by weeds,” Cheruiyot approached the BIA about having her students revitalize them. 

“I have this class that I was building up, and it just seemed a perfect fit to adopt this lot and bring it back into a functioning community garden,” Cheruiyot said. 

Cheruiyot, or “Dr. C” as her students call her, received $5,000 from Tulane to fund the revitalization efforts as part of the Duren Professorship program. She had enough students that she could adopt the food pantry garden as well, which another Tulane professor, Jeanette Gustat of the School of Public Health, had started a few years earlier.

“We had already been trying to focus more on increasing access to green spaces across the neighborhood as well as our focus on addressing food insecurity in the neighborhood, so it really made sense for us,” Pritchard said.

Sharon Lurye, Uptown Messenger

A painted garden bed at the Broadmoor Food Pantry garden. Food grown in community gardens will go to the food pantry.

The BIA, in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank and the Broadmoor Community Church, gives out food to community members on Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. at the church on 2021 Dupre St.

The vegetables are highly welcomed, as sourcing fresh produce can be a major challenge. For example, the pantry recently received a shipment of okra, but the vegetables were all rotten and had to be thrown in the compost bin. Now, there’s okra seeds planted right outside the pantry door.  

“People are really excited when they see more fresh fruits and vegetables at the pantry,” Pritchard said.

Between the two gardens, there’s a smorgasbord of options: collards, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, turnips, citrus and more. The Food Forest garden, true to its name, hosts many trees, including avocado, fig and guava. 

Cheruiyot said one of the main learning goals for her students is to understand the social-cultural, economic, political and environmental considerations that go into building a thriving community garden. “They have to connect and address all those things,” she said. 

For example, students have knocked on doors and attended neighborhood meetings to ask folks what plants they want to see in the gardens. This ensures that the gardens grow food that fits local culture and cuisine, like the okra and greens. 

“The community is a really big part of urban agroecology,” said Sara Good-Chanmugam, a senior at Tulane. “It’s one of the main tenets of it, in addition to having plants that are native and good for the environment.” 

Pritchard said that the tranquility and peace of mind that gardens offer is more important now than ever. 

“They are going to provide a green space for all Broadmoor residents to enjoy,” she said. “With the pandemic, we’ve seen how much having a safe space to be outside can make a really big difference for people’s mental health and their overall sense of well-being.”

To learn more about the day of service on April 10, email communications@broadmoorimprovement.com or dcheruiyot@tulane.edu

Reporter Sharon Lurye can be reached at sharonrlurye@gmail.com.

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