5 Urban Farms Reshaping the Food World in New Orleans

5. Sun Harvest Kitchen Garden: Cleaning Up Katrina's Mess

Founded: 2010
Size: 65' by 86'
Managed by: Pam Broom
Location: Central City, 1237-1241 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard

Contaminated soil is always a concern for urban farmers—and in post-Katrina New Orleans, where floodwaters spread toxins far and wide, the worry has been particularly intense. But with work done at Sun Harvest Kitchen Garden, in the city's Central City neighborhood, growers are starting to relax thanks to one simple thing: sunflowers.

In 2008, segments of the plot now housing Sun Harvest Kitchen Garden posted a range of lead levels that topped out at 1200 parts per million—triple the level allowed by law. After successive plantings of sunflowers, the levels dropped as low as 136 ppm. (Dr. Lovell Agwaramgbo, the Dillard University chemist who tested the site, cautions that the reduced levels could in part reflect that the soil had been tilled, and thus distributing toxins more evenly; he's currently conducting further research.)

The garden is now overseen by Pam Broom, one of the city's top advocates for urban agriculture and an experienced urban farmer in her own right. She's gearing up to begin real food production—she needs a fence first, to keep out animals—with the goal of selling herbs and vegetables to a nearby nonprofit restaurant, Café Reconcile.

For now, though, she's not too concerned about the site's financial prospects. "Somebody came in and helped themselves to the leeks, and I thought, 'That's so sweet.' I figured somebody needed it," she says. For now, she added, "I'm using this as a demonstration of what's possible."

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Tracie McMillan is a freelance journalist whose work focuses on the issue of access to good food, particularly within middle- and lower-income communities. Her first book, The American Way of Eating, examines food and class in America.

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