Filed Under:  Local, News

Grants and growth for community gardening initiative

28th April 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Nayita Wilson
Contributing Writer

Five years ago, Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Backyard Gardeners Network (BGN) and neighbors in the Lower Ninth Ward seized the opportunity to transform a vacant lot turned dumping site into a vibrant community garden.

The idea arose following conversations with community residents, including self-proclaimed guerrilla gardener, Aloyd Edinburgh, who sowed seed on the lot prior to Katrina. The lot’s degradation after the storm brought that practice to an end, and Edinburgh has since reaped success by gardening through containers.

His prior use of the lot and gardening techniques inspired a transformation.

“I just saw what he was growing (in the containers). We began talking about the lot, and that’s how everything came about,” said Mwendo who in 2009 led the charge to transition the lot into Guerrilla Garden, a BGN managed and maintained green space that grows fresh fruit and vegetables.

Since then, BGN has taken a deep dive into community gardening, and its success is spreading. Mwendo was recently named a “Hero Next Door” by Ebony magazine for her work with BGN. The feature is scheduled to be released in the publication’s May 2014 issue.

In addition, Guerrilla Garden is climbing the ranks in a national, online voter driven Seeds of Change Grant program.

“I always say ‘accolades can’t mean anything if they don’t benefit your community,’” said Mwendo who is pursuing the grant to reinstate a youth internship program, which launched this February.

During the initiative, youth and young adults conducted neighborhood outreach tasks, met neighbors, learned about the community and demonstrated a positive representation of their peer groups, while earning a wage. Reciprocity of this sort is the basis of the BNG’s endeavor to preserve community traditions such as giving back, self-reliance and looking out for others, according to Mwendo.

“This is not brand new. We’re just highlighting a cultural tradition that runs deep in New Orleans. We just encourage people to get involved,” she said.

Those rallying behind BGN and Guerilla Garden community include community residents, staff, instructors, a homeschool group, community church partnerships, and program fiscal sponsors and supporters such as New Orleans Food & Farm Network and Parkway Partners.

Guerrilla Garden is open to the six days a week. Its features an Adopt a Lot program, which allows plot owners to grow and market produce at will. The area also contains a greenhouse, a rain water catching system for watering plants and hosts the Food as Medicine Workshop Series, which gives local chefs the opportunity to teach food for healing cooking techniques.

“We have all of these things in this space, but we really see it as an open air community center,” Mwendo said.

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This article originally published in the April 28, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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