Along with partner Jim Seely, Joel Hitchcock-Tilton runs Paradigm Gardens (2516 Dryades St.; www.paradigmgardensnola.com), an urban farm and event space on Rampart Street in Central City. The duo started the garden a year and a half ago with chef partners Kristen Essig of Meauxbar, Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette and Aaron Burgau of Patois. It has several goats, and herbs, vegetables and edible flowers are grown in its beds. Following a trial run last year, the team kicks off a bi-weekly concert series on Sept. 29 with food, drinks and local bands. Tilton spoke with Gambit about the concept of a chef's garden and sustaining an urban farm.
How is Paradigm different from other urban gardens?
Hitchcock-Tilton: It's really a chef's garden; we partner exclusively with the chefs at Coquette, Meauxbar and Patois. We sit down with them a few times a year and come up with a crop plan where they tell us what they'd like — giving us a wish list — and we tell them whether that's possible or not, given space, seasonality, weather constraints and so on. We usually can grow around 90 percent of what they ask for.
We grow a lot of specialty items they maybe wouldn't be able to find elsewhere: lots of edible flowers, baby and microgreens. One of the perks is that it's incredibly fresh: Instead of buying something that was cut a couple of days or a week ago, they can come here the day of and get something we harvested maybe 20 minutes ago. They get one or two days of delivery, and they can also come to the garden and pick up what they want, which is nice. They usually hang out for a while, chat and see what's growing.
Can other chefs purchase your produce?
H: We've had a lot of requests from a number of great chefs in the area, and that's been really flattering. But at the moment, we just don't have the capacity to do that. We work informally with Ancora and High Hat (Cafe) on the side; we're bound to have some sort of extras and if we do, say, have 20 pounds of eggplant or something, then we'll give it to them and work something out. But we have to make sure we've got enough for our [three] chefs first. They've been great to partner with. There aren't three other people we would rather be working with than them.
How does the farm sustain itself?
H: Urban farming and growing vegetables is in no way very lucrative, unfortunately. There are a number of great nonprofits and community gardens in the city but it's not a great business model. We put about $25,000 of our own money into building and maintaining everything here. So we thought about how we could make it work. The idea was to create a functioning, sustainable plan for an urban garden. So we came up with the idea of the concert series and have started using the space for events. We'll be doing field trips with kids; we've had some art gallery and food truck nights and people can rent the space if they want for any type of event, including weddings or parties. We threw a couple of (concert events) last year, and they were great. There's food from local chefs, music and drinks, and the place has a completely different feel to it at night.