A visit to Our School at Blair Grocery, which hopes to empower the youth of New Orleans through food and sustainability
In the syrupy charm of New Orleans's Garden District or the debauchery of the French Quarter, you might think the city has recovered from the trauma of Katrina. Streetcars are running, music is playing, and tourists have stumbled back with beads on. But in the poorest part of the city, which also happens to be the lowest part, it's a different story. Nearly six years on, only 20 percent of pre-hurricane residents have returned to the Lower Ninth Ward. Citywide, the same percentage of residents had returned only four months after the storm.
Christian Adams, 18, told me he has no idea what happened to most of his friends and former neighbors. We shared a bench behind a washed-out store formerly known as Blair Grocery. Now it's a school: Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG)—a supportive oasis in a neighborhood that also happens to be a food desert, without easy access to fresh produce.
The air smelled of compost, some of which was splattered on Adams's boots. Other neighborhood teens were planting sprouts, harvesting okra and figs, and screening potting soil.
The school is not accredited, and many of its students can't read. Learning to read is not mandatory, says the school's founder, Nat Turner. "If a student wants to learn to read we'll help them learn. If a student wants to take the GED we'll help them prepare," he told me as we rumbled toward Uptown in a creaky pickup at 6:30 in the morning. Turner is lanky, with endless energy. He smoked a hand-rolled cigarette as he drove, switching topics easily between the likes of compost science, racial politics, and global warming.