Our School at Blair Grocery is now a thriving urban farm, complete with
chickens, ducks, bees, worm bins, and an aquaponic tank full of carp. Every crop, creature, and corner of the farm becomes an opportunity for learning. OSBG began with six full-time students in its first year, and enrollment has been rising ever since. Most of the kids who choose Turner’s alternative education program have had problems navigating the public school system or have been released from juvenile detention centers. Some attend conventional school, then come to OSBG in the afternoons, many of them still wearing their school uniforms.
Through the upkeep of the farm, the kids learn biology, horticulture, and algebra. Through the construction of greenhouses and fish tanks, and the renovation of the building, they learn physics, engineering, and calculus. By selling their cilantro and chiles to local taco truck vendors and running the OSBG Sunday farmers’ market, they learn economics and Spanish. And, of course, by eating their own homegrown food, they learn not only about health and nutrition, but they also come to understand how delicious healthy food can be. They even learn the social value of preparing and sharing a meal, though most already know that lesson by heart: Communities here have long been woven together through culinary traditions.
In New Orleans, the growing season runs opposite most of the rest of the country. Midsummer months are too hot—for both the crops and the farmers—so the season ramps up toward late fall and runs through the winter. Year-round, a rotating crew of young employees and interns cycles through—many of them from far corners of the country, drawn to the city and OSBG by the desire to gain skills for self-sufficiency while making a positive impact on urban youth. The farm manager, Brennan Dougherty, is one such character, though she’s been with the farm since its beginnings and intends to stick around. “I plan to be here at the school as long as is necessary for me to be,” she says, adding, “My heart will be here always.” Matthew Benson / Abrams