Building a local food economy requires both the local farmers growing food and the food entrepreneurs making products from this local food.
Our work — increasing markets for farmers, incubating farms, training new farmers — is aimed toward supporting the building blocks of a new food economy. An economy with shorter supply chains — from local farms to packing and production facilities to retailers — a shorter distance from farm to fork. A Local Food Economy.
Many markets — farmers markets, restaurants, stores — want more local food sources. New farmers ask for assistance in acquiring land, apprenticeship opportunities with mentor farmers, further training to get better at growing for market. Over the years, we have made these connections, paid for special trainers to visit our area for a day of instruction, and often turn to our collaborators to further the growth of the local food system.
Building the local food economy will increase food security in the New Orleans region. NOFFN believes achieving food security requires food growing at all scales — from backyards to community gardens to small urban farms to small regional farms. NOFFN has helped catalyze projects that fill critical gaps in the system while also providing support, capacity-building, and technical assistance to a diversity of food and farming projects:
- The NOLA Fruit Tree Project, Capstone, and Hollygrove Market and Farm have increased the amount of food available to residents and communities by harvesting the abundance of fruit on citrus trees, growing more food to share with neighbors, and selling local food to residents;
- People are becoming more interested interest in healthy eating from the work of the Backyard Gardeners Network and Growing Local NOLA;
- Market farming projects grow and thrive more every year thanks to creative and supportive collaborations between key players like Good Food NOLA, NOLA Kitchen Gardens, Supporting Urban Agriculture, VEGGI Farmers Cooperative, and NOLA Tilth;
- There is a growing pipeline of future farmers being trained by projects like Grow Dat Youth Farm, Our School at Blair Grocery, and Sprout NOLA; and
- We have democratized information on vacant lot availability with Living Lots NOLA and provided a methodology and information on transforming these lots into farms, gardens, and community spaces with the FarmCity Toolbox.
NOFFN has now strategically shifted to address enduring gaps that hinder the growth of the local food economy in Greater New Orleans.
There’s a growing demand for local food. From consumers, from markets, from stores, from chefs. With the emergence of new markets, full-time foragers employed by restaurant groups and large retail stores, and more chefs looking to source directly from farms, demand grows.
There is a history of farming in our region. In the 1800s, the area’s soil, rich from many years of flooding, provided for excellent agricultural usage. The land produced as much as four crops per year. These crops included sugar cane, indigo and many food crops. The rich soil is still there. Much less food farming occurs today.
Climate change will alter the typical supply chains we use today. The fertile land of Louisiana could become an important growing area for the region but also for more populated regions to the east and north.
We focus on 3 inter-related projects: Food Business Incubator Kitchen, Farm Incubation Pilot, Food & Farm Co-Packers.
Food Business Incubator Kitchen – In collaboration with St Charles Parish, we operate Edible Enterprises, a licensed commercial incubator kitchen in Norco. We are helping food entrepreneurs launch startup food businesses by providing an affordable and fully stocked professional kitchen space. Scores of small businesses have used our facility to bake, can, freeze, and more. We solve the distribution problem for all the creative food artisans in our rich food culture. We offer a way for them to use a licensed kitchen so they can put their creations on store shelves. We offer a pathway to a business.
Farm Incubation Pilot – Along with Restaurateur Dickie Brennan & Company and Sheaux Fresh Farms, NOFFN is attempting to incubate the first of many small farms in the Greater New Orleans region. We call it the Creole Tomato Project. It is a farm with a guaranteed market from a number of restaurants. This provides the financial security to begin farming. The technical term for it could be Restaurant Supported Agriculture. It’s a model we want to replicate in the region. Incubated Farms. Clustered. Assisted in startup by NOFFN, guaranteed markets with restaurants, increasing food availability in other markets, and sharing farm equipment (We call it a Share The Tractor approach – pooling resources and sharing responsibility for maintaining tools). You start with one. Farmers mentor apprentices who then are helped in incubating their farm.
Food & Farm Co-Packers – Food & Farm Co-Packers is a social enterprise to minimally process locally-grown vegetables for distribution to retailers and institutions, provide small-scale food processing and co-packing services to food start-ups and farmers, and will train unskilled workers for jobs in the food industry. Light-processing of fresh fruits and vegetables, including freezing and fresh-cut packaging, has the potential to increase small farm viability. This is a form of season extension whereby growers can produce more in-season and continue to sell frozen product throughout the year without compromising its quality. Consumers in turn can access a greater variety of locally grown produce throughout the year. Institutions in particular rely heavily on fresh-cut and frozen produce. They require large volumes of product to produce meals for their many diners, and value convenience and storability.
We are building the infrastructure of the future food system that will provide us safe and sustainable food.
Supporting our work is a seed investment in new businesses that will not require future grant funding to grow and thrive. With our technical assistance and support, these farmers and food entrepreneurs will build self-supporting and sustainable businesses. The new food economy.