It was such a thrill to plan and coordinate Today’s Dietitian’s first local food and farm tour. We organized the tour in conjunction with Today’s Dietitian’s 4th annual Spring Symposium this month, which was held in New Orleans. Since about 600 dietitians had gathered together from all over the country (and even the world—hey Belize!) to attend the conference, what better time to learn about the local foods of this rich culture on a field trip?
So, bright and early on May 20, 17 of us stepped into a tour bus to set off for a jam-packed day of exploration, as we got up close and personal with the food system in New Orleans, including its local foods, hunger organizations, school gardens, and food history.
Crescent City Farmers Market
Our first stop was to one of the city’s farmers’ markets, the Crescent City Farmers Market, located in New Orleans’ historic Warehouse District and is only open on Saturdays. (The market operates elsewhere in the city on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.) Market Manager Cristina Berthelot told us all about the history of the farmers’ market program in the city. Unlike many cities, small, multigenerational farms, with a rich, year-round growing season surround New Orleans. We sampled a variety of locally grown foods, including tea, berries, tomatoes, herbs, greens, rice, and baked goods.
There’s such an emphasis on local foods in this town that they even dedicate the entire month of June to eating locally with the New Orleans Eat Local Challenge, which inspires people to eat only food grown, caught, or raised within 200 miles of New Orleans for the 30 days of June.
Second Harvest Food Bank
Our second stop was to Second Harvest Food Bank, which serves as the heart of a regional network of more than 500 partners and programs across south Louisiana. The state is home to some of the most poverty-stricken communities in the United States. With warehouses in New Orleans and Lafayette, Second Harvest distributes about 31 million pounds of food and other grocery items to 210,000 individuals each year—the equivalent of more than 28 million meals.
Our private tour with Michelle Rosamond, volunteer services coordinator at Second Harvest, brought us into the warehouse to see the impact that donations from food companies, organizations, and individuals can make to the food security of New Orleans. We were all inspired to get more involved with hunger at home after this tour.
Edible Schoolyard New Orleans
Next up, a stop to see the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA) in action at the Samuel J. Green Charter School. The ESYNOLA works to empower generations of New Orleans children to build and maintain healthful relationships with food, the natural world, themselves, and their community. Founded in 2006, the organization provides innovative, hands-on classes in nontraditional educational spaces: schoolyard gardens and teaching kitchens.
We were so lucky to have a private tour with Alisha Johnson, development manager at ESYNOLA, who led us through one of ESYNOLA’s success stories at Samuel J. Green. Alice Waters, founder of the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California, wanted to do something for post-Katrina New Orleans, and this school was the first to attract her attention. Located in a neighborhood community, this rough-and-tumble school had barbed wire on the fence, but Waters says it had to come down so the children felt loved. And as the school garden grew, the children certainly grew to feel more loved, too.
Today, the school garden provides a rich, nourishing curriculum for the students at Green, as they gather together outdoors for classes among grapes, herbs, and flowers. They collect the food to bring into the cooking classroom, where parents in the community are encouraged to cook with their kids. Any leftover vegetables from the garden are gathered together and offered to the neighborhood.
Southern Food & Beverage Museum
Our last stop was to see the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB), which celebrates the food, drink, and culture of the South in a living environment, from the ethnicities that inspired local food culture, to the farmers, fisherman, and hunter/gatherers that produced the food. We first enjoyed a tasty lunch at the restaurant associated with the museum, Toups South, where we feasted on a modern take on classic Southern food, including biscuits, a crispy black-eyed pea salad with cornbread croutons, and a handcrafted local cocktail, the Sazerac.
After lunch, we were so fortunate to attend a lecture and private tour of SoFAB with food historian and museum President, Director, and Cofounder Liz Williams. She cast a magical spell over us as she shared stories about the roots of New Orleans cuisine, including the combination of the cultures and the availability of local foods that inspired this celebrated cuisine.
The local food and farm tour was a resounding success, and we eagerly anticipate our next tour in Austin, Texas, for May 2018. Mark your calendars today!
— Sharon Palmer, RDN, is an award-winning author, blogger, and plant-based food expert. She serves as the nutrition editor of Today’s Dietitian and is currently studying Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College. Visit her at www.sharonpalmer.com.