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Homemade for the Holidays 

Ian McNulty on the ways you can use local foods in your holiday cooking — and why it's important

click to enlarge Joseph Brock built up the community garden network NOLA Green Roots. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

The dishes we bring to the holiday table often have stories behind them, from heirloom recipes to newfound necessities. These days it's increasingly likely that the raw materials going into these dishes have their own stories.

  Buzzwords like "local," "seasonal" and "sustainable" are in vogue if not downright trendy. But the spread of urban farming and community gardens and an increasingly robust network supplying the produce of regional growers to city households means locally, seasonally, sustainably grown food is more accessible now than it has been in generations. It has become more viable for New Orleanians to shop and cook in a way that maintains close and meaningful connections to the region and its people.

  Rather than trendy, it's actually a return to tradition, and after years of building momentum, the market for local food is booming. One early pioneer, the Crescent City Farmers Market (www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org), runs three weekly markets around the city, and other farmers markets now operate weekly in other city neighborhoods and in communities from Westwego to Covington.

  An important new resource in the New Orleans eat-local movement is Hollygrove Market and Farm (8301 Olive St., 483-7037; www.hollygrovemarket.com), which is an urban farm, a market for small-scale farmers and food producers as well as an education center. Formed three years ago, Hollygrove has developed a distribution system that includes five weekly locations and weekly deliveries of produce-filled market boxes to patrons' doors.

  Last month, the nonprofit New Orleans Food Cooperative (2372 St. Claude Ave., 264-5579; www.nolafood.coop) opened its long-awaited grocery, a 4,800-square-foot store in the Faubourg Marigny that focuses on naturally grown local foods and is open daily.

  On the production end, groups and individuals across New Orleans are converting more vacant lots and backyards into vegetable gardens, either for personal use or to supply other households. Jeanette Bell has been at it for years, harvesting flowers, herbs and other produce from her Fleur D'Eden Community Garden in Central City (2111 Baronne St., phone n.a.) and groups like the New Orleans Food and Farm Network (www.noffn.org) and the Lower 9th Ward-based Backyard Gardeners Network (www.backyardgardenersnetwork.org) are helping many others get growing.

  Another community garden network that's bringing more New Orleans-grown food to the table is NOLA Green Roots (www.nolagreenroots.com). People around the region have signed up as supporting members, and twice a month NOLA Green Roots delivers food from its four local gardens. More NOLA Green Roots sites are in the works, says founder and director Joseph Brock, and his organization has developed a management system and playbook aimed at helping enthusiasts anywhere replicate its model.

  "People say, 'You can't feed a whole neighborhood off a little backyard farm,' and that's true," Brock says. "But with a network of community gardens you can supplement people's diets with healthy food, so they're eating healthier than they were the day before and they have a better understanding of where this food comes from because they're a part of it."

  As families gather for the holidays this year, having more food like this on the table is really something to talk about.

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