If plans come through, the Lafitte Greenway, a 2.6-mile corridor of land extending from the French Quarter to Mid-City, will soon be more than just a shady sanctuary landscaped by walking and biking paths, ball parks and soccer fields.
Thanks to the White House and six federal agencies, as well as a handful of local nonprofit organizations, the public park and bike path will soon be planning a little something for healthy food and plant lovers, too — a farmer’s market and community gardens.
Friends of Lafitte Corridor, the nonprofit visionary behind the extensive city project, announced Thursday that the organization had been selected to participate in a federal initiative called “Local Foods, Local Places.” The designation means Friends of Lafitte Corridor will get technical support to integrate a local food system into the city’s newest park and transportation hub, which is slated for completion early next year.
According to Sophie Harris, the executive director of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, the new Lafitte Greenway market and garden project is an ideal way for local farmers to team with urban planners in order to bring healthy food options to areas of Mid-City, Bayou St. John, the Treme and the French Quarter.
“Community gardens have a rich history in the Lafitte Corridor neighborhoods and are central to the community’s vision for the Lafitte Greenway,” said Sophie Harris, Executive Director of Friends of Lafitte Corridor. “The Greenway will be an ideal space to connect growers to local markets and increase community access to healthy foods.”
The nonprofit will soon start working with the community to envision the gardens and farmer’s market, Harris added. Among the selected planners are agricultural, transportation, environmental, public health and regional economic experts.
One of the goals of the new farmer’s market and community garden project in the Lafitte Corridor is to bolster the local economy while providing food solutions for the underserved. To that end, several local organizations will team with the White House and Friends of Lafitte Corridor, including the Xavier University Entrepreneurship Institute, a resource that teaches students and other collaborators how to be drivers of sustainable businesses while contributing to society.
“The entrepreneurs who are urban farmers can contribute greatly to the local economy by providing goods and services and job opportunities,” said Mark Quinn, Conrad N. Hilton Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship and an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at Xavier University. “We are proud to work with our partners in supporting the development of urban agriculture.”
SPROUT NOLA, an interactive urban farm, will also participate. Recently, the local organization found another home in Mid-City through the ReFresh Community Farm, a garden teaching project that’s slated to open near the new Whole Foods on Broad Street this January.
According to SPROUT NOLA Director Emily Mickley-Doyle, the Lafitte Greenway project is another way to introduce the world of urban farming to regular residents who happen to stumble upon the company’s small-scale projects while strolling through the park, or buying groceries.
The collaboration will also be good for local farmers, who can take advantage of the foot traffic, she added.
“We are thrilled to explore the many opportunities for collaboration around the potential for urban agriculture and farmers market development on the greenway,” said Emily Mickley-Doyle, Director of SPROUT NOLA. “We look forward to fostering our community partnerships and creating a dynamic conversation about the potentiality of linking small-scale vegetable growers with opportunities to increase fresh food access in our communities.”
The Lafitte Greenway was one of 26 “Local Foods, Local Places” communities chosen from among 316 applicants, according to Harris. The national program is the result of a partnership between a slew of federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
The Delta Regional Authority, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency also participate in the federal initiative, which draws on the Obama Adminstration’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The program works to improve access to affordable housing, increase transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment.
In this case, the “Local Foods, Local Places” initiative will bolster local economies through independent food projects, according to EPA’s Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg.
“Our agencies are working together to make a visible difference in communities,” Meiburg said. “By promoting farmers markets, community kitchens, and other efforts to increase access to healthy food, we are supporting local businesses in struggling downtown neighborhoods and preserving farms and undeveloped land. It’s good for people’s health, good for the economy, and good for the environment.”
The $9.1 million Lafitte Greenway project is slated to open to the public in Spring 2015, and will ultimately transform a former industrial railway into a highly anticipated green space. Organizers say construction is over 60 percent complete, and when the project is done it will feature a 12-foot wide bicycle and pedestrian path, lighting, over 500 trees, landscaping, stormwater retention features, and new recreation fields.