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The Year in Sustainability 

Alex Woodward issues a report card on how well New Orleans did this year in all things green

click to enlarge Global Green USA volunteers help plant rain gardens in Holy Cross. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GLOBAL GREEN USA
  • Photo courtesy of Global Green USA
  • Global Green USA volunteers help plant rain gardens in Holy Cross.

This being New Orleans, much of the city's environmental and sustainable efforts start and end with food, including the New Orleans Food Co-Op, which opened its doors this year after almost a decade in the making. The grocery had a benefactor in developer Pres Kabacoff, who helped pay for the group's space inside his New Orleans Healing Center. Co-op membership reached more than 1,000 in April, and the 4,800-square-foot store opened in October with more than 2,000 members.

  The idea of the co-op was introduced in 2002, but founders went through several planning stages before finally agreeing on a space on Elysian Fields Avenue in 2005, before Hurricane Katrina scrapped its progress. The intersection of St. Claude and St. Roch avenues, where the Healing Center sits, has been a go-to example of the city's struggle to provide dense communities with access to fresh, healthy food following the rise of "food deserts" in post-Katrina New Orleans.

  In 2007, the co-op introduced a mobile market with help from Crescent City Farmers Market. It also introduced a buyer's club inside what later became the Healing Center (the former Universal Furniture building). In 2009, the co-op reached 500 members, while the neighboring St. Roch Market, a proposed site for another fresh foods grocery, was a blighted spot on the avenue. On its limited shelf space, the co-op, which was open on a weekly basis, offered foods from local farms, some bulk grains and other goods. Now the store is open daily, and each member can own a stake in the co-op, though the store is open to the public.

  The Building Block, the co-op's upstairs neighbor, opened its Healing Center location this year. The incubator focuses on developing and connecting sustainable businesses and entrepreneurs with other like-minded businesses. More than a dozen green-focused or environmentally friendly small businesses share The Building Block space.

  More news for the green economy: Global Green USA announced NOLA Wise, its low-interest loan program for owners to make their houses more energy efficient, and Louisiana Green Corps graduated 32 young adults in its program that trains 18- to 24-year-olds to build energy-efficient buildings and use sustainable construction practices.

  The inaugural Eat Local Challenge tasked participants to stick to a "locavore" diet, one consisting of foods sourced from within a 200-mile radius, for one month (beginning June 1) — but everything had to be local (for the die-hard participants, which included Mike Strain, the state's agriculture and forestry commissioner). But organizers stressed how good Louisiana has it — down to the salt, which is harvested on Avery Island — when it comes to eating locally. There are local berries in spring and hardy citrus in winter, and diverse fruits, vegetables and grains thrive in the Gulf climate. The state also enjoys organic poultry farms and a bounty of fresh seafood. The challenge (www.nolalocavore.org) will return in 2012.

  An increase in farmers markets and neighborhood gardens also has improved access to healthy food — the 9th Ward's Sankofa Farmers Market expanded its offerings and moved to a larger space at the Holy Angels Complex (3500 St. Claude Ave.).

  In 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Sustainable Energy and Environmental Task Force transition team announced its agenda for the administration, and at the top of its list was resurrecting the city's recycling program. Landrieu reached deals with two of the city's garbage contractors, Metro Disposal and Richard's Disposal, for weekly recycling pickup service. Only a quarter of residents have enrolled, but that diversion of waste from landfills, although only a single-digit percentage of overall waste, is a step forward. And this month, the Jefferson Parish Council arranged its 2012 budget to bring back recycling services.

  Elsewhere, compost programs have taken off, from NOLA Green Roots to Hollygrove Market & Farm, and Operation Reach's Gulfsouth Youth Biodiesel Project has increased its efforts to recycle spent cooking grease, which it turns into biodiesel fuel.

  NOLA Green Roots has made rain-collection barrels available, and rain gardens have sprouted across the city. In the Holy Cross neighborhood, Global Green built a series of rain gardens to help with storm-water management, and Groundwork NOLA continued its rainwater gardening campaign, which has expanded throughout the city since the group was founded in 2007.

  And after months of plotting, the Lafitte Corridor received a not entirely unexpected announcement from the Department of Interior, securing the greenway's development as one of seven priority projects under the Obama administration's commitment to parks programs. The 3.1-mile linear park will connect neighborhoods from Armstrong Park to Lakeview with pathways, parks, gardens and other community resources.

  In August 2010, the city acquired a parcel of land formerly reserved for the Louisiana Institute of Film Technology. Those 16.5 acres would add to the planned greenway, and Austin, Texas-based firm Design Workshop is the principal designer. Earlier in the year, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), which helps reclaim spaces filled by former rail lines, held a series of workshops focusing on the greenway, which brought national attention to the project. The slow, steady progress included a series of community meetings held by designers to get residents' input on the design plans. Earlier this month, interior secretary Ken Salazar announced the administration's commitment to the project ("How much do you need?" he joked, after being told it needed more funding.).

  Last week, RTC released a Lafitte Corridor guide, including an inventory of its linked-together communities. The greenway is expected to break ground in 2013.

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