Jordan Bantuelle and Ian Wilson started Southbound Gardens, a patchwork of urban farms spread throughout New Orleans, and the Urban Farmstead of New Orleans (www.facebook.com/theurbanfarmstead), a project to educate people about urban farming techniques and benefits. They sell vegetables, herbs and potted seeds at the Crescent City Farmers Market's Wednesday market, at Hollygrove Market & Farm and Good Eggs. Bantuelle spoke with Gambit about his business' Clio Street garden and operations.
How does Southbound Garden/Urban Farmstead work?
Bantuelle: There is a commercial operation called Southbound Gardens. We sell herbs and veggies at the Crescent City Farmers Market, Hollygrove, the online market Good Eggs, and to a lot of pop-up restaurants and some restaurants around town. We're at an in between time right now (at Clio Street). We have kale and lettuce. ... We do a lot of herbs out of here commercially. This is a bay laurel tree. ... We have four citrus trees, two peaches, two apple trees, two grapevines, a fig tree. The Urban Farmstead is an educational project that we're trying to develop as a nonprofit ... DIY skills and ecological design education center. It's for all ages, but we focus on high school and adults.
If you're interested in farming, why not find a tract of land in a nearby rural area instead of all the far-flung urban gardens?
B: We're into education, which is going to be a bigger part of our business model at some point. We're establishing credibility as urban farmers. If we can show people it's sustainable to grow and sell like this, then we are qualified to teach people how to do it. We teach classes pretty frequently.
We're also trying to go above and beyond. Urban farming has taken hold; we'd like to raise the bar on ecological design: How do we integrate this with sustainable building and storm-water management? This is being done around the world. ... There are education opportunites in urban areas.
Also, there is access to resources. There's free stuff everywhere. We use cardboard a lot; it's a great weed suppressant. There also is access to volunteers. We partner with the Tulane Hope Garden project. They come out here every week.
And you're cultivating ideas here as well?
B: Part of what we are doing is an experimental form of agriculture known as "permaculture." It's a form of ecological design, and one of the tenets is that there is strength in diversity. If you build a diverse ecosystem like this and you're not spraying herbicides and pesticides that are actually destroying the ecosystem, it makes it much more difficult for diseases to run unchecked because something else in the ecosystem is going to balance it out. ... Healthy soil produces healthy plants.
The chicken tractor (a moveable pen) is a good example of ecological design. When you look at a system, you ask what are all the inputs and outputs? For chickens, the inputs are food, water, shelter. It'll do better if it can eat greens. The main outputs are eggs, but you can also think of behaviors as outputs. They scratch around in the ground, there's manure, they eat anything — they're waste disposal units. It's called "stacking functions." Instead of a system where we have to clear up after them and feed them constantly, can we tie all this together in an elegant solution. The tractor has an open bottom. We pull it forward every few days. They eat all the weeds in that spot. They scratch the ground, which tills it. They get food at no expense to us. And they fertilize it. It's small scale, but it's an example of permaculture.