New Spaces and Old Traditions

On my third day in New Orleans, as I repeatedly mispronounced street names and referred to the streetcar as a “trolley,” Broad Community Connections (BCC) 2018-2019 Newman’s Own Foundation (NOF) Fellow, Taiyiana couldn’t help but laugh. She was training me to take over her role, as the incoming NOF Fellow, and it was becoming increasingly clear to me that the city I was in was so unique that much of my energy throughout my Fellowship year would be devoted to learning its ins and outs.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I moved to New Orleans. It’s a city just large enough to harbor a world-famous culture known best for its food and music, and just small enough that most people are only a couple of degrees of separation from one another. It’s a city that lights up whenever the Saints are playing and where everybody is always down to talk about the weather. It’s a city where structural inequities look you square in the face every day, and a place in which the effects of climate change are arguably being felt more dramatically than in any other US American city. All of these factors make New Orleans a complicated place to navigate as an outsider, as someone who moves there after college. I’ve been living here for 5 months now, and every day I pick up more nuance about how the city works, and what it means to participate in New Orleans rather than just occupy it.

Though my Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship placement is with Broad Community Connections, I work mostly with SPROUT NOLA, which stands for Sustainable Produce Reaching our Urban Table. I am the Community Garden and Farmer’s Market Manager, which means my main responsibilities are tending to the garden, organizing community potlucks and workdays, managing our farmer’s market, and aggregating food for local growers. Before beginning my Fellowship, I knew that these were just the types of responsibilities I wanted. In college, I spent much of my time examining the interaction between food and community. This manifest in my coursework as well as my extracurriculars; I took classes on the relationship between American food culture and race, and on the changing meaning of community in modern rural America. I lived on my college’s farm and conducted an oral history project in the surrounding area where I interviewed local people about what community meant to them. I always expected that I would only be able to pursue these interests in an academic context; jobs that touch on these themes seem to be few and far between, and in very high demand. When the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship program sent me a job description for the position at BCC, it felt too good to be true.

Through my position at SPROUT, I have met so many special people I would not have been able to meet otherwise. The members of our community garden, the other growers that I see at farmer’s markets, and the folks who work at our partner non-profits have been kind, welcoming, and have all given me unique insight into the city and different perspectives on living. Our community garden consists of folks from all sorts of different backgrounds who are brought together by their interest in growing healthy food. Though this is what brought them together, our gardeners have much more holding them together now. At our community potlucks, everyone brings food before we do our garden work, and people share what is going on in their lives and often stay much later than the workday lasts, just to keep hanging out. During farmer’s markets, growers share how their crops are doing and swap flowers for vegetables, eggs for honey, and give away whatever they have left over.

My time at SPROUT has been really rewarding on a professional level as well. My supervisor Margee is SPROUT’s executive director, and we are the only two full-time employees of the organization. At such a small organization, I’ve been able to wear many hats; I’ve attended awards ceremonies for SPROUT, volunteered at galas for our partner organizations, prepared our garden for freezes and storms, taught children’s classes, helped organize our finances, applied for grants, written newsletters, and spent endless hours talking to our gardeners and growers. I have far more autonomy and varied responsibilities than I ever would have expected from an entry-level position. I’m constantly encouraged to innovate and find new opportunities for myself and for SPROUT. I feel supported when I need help but am always given the freedom to challenge myself. Our organization also works closely with many other food-related nonprofits, so I have met lots of other people taking different approaches to a similar mission.

While SPROUT focuses on developing sustainable growers, we are working with organizations on policy work, food distribution work, and many other issues. Through these efforts, I’ve met so many professionals around the city striving for food justice, and have accrued a lot of experience in collaboration. At only 5 months in, I feel that I have a professional network in this city that spans many different organizations.

I am incredibly grateful to be a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellow and to be able to make a living doing this unique and rewarding job. Because SPROUT focuses on qualitative results, we don’t have impressive numbers to back up our worth; we have stories. Organizations like this have a difficult time getting funding, and it’s so valuable that organizations like Newman’s Own Foundation take the time to listen to these stories and recognize a type of worth that often goes unrecognized in our society. I feel that in my time here, I am not only learning how to be a member of the workforce, but how to be a citizen, and how to make my way through the world.

By 2019-2020 NOF Fellow, Gabe Jimenez – Ekman, Broad Community Connections, New Orleans, LA.