Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hope grows sustainably and irrepressibly in New Orleans

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated one of America's greatest cities, a hardworking and talented group of urban farmers are bringing vegetables and vigor to a part of town where fresh produce had long been unavailable:

When the levee along the Industrial Canal failed back in 2005 and the wall of water drowned much of New Orleans' Lower Nine, the area north of Claiborne Avenue - the poorest section of the neighborhood - was hardest hit. Not surprisingly, the stretch has been slowest to recover. Five years after the devastating hurricane, the area still does not have a supermarket or store that sells fresh produce. Today, where houses once stood, jungle-like growths have consumed the lands. Other homes, still abandoned, are slanted and Burtonesque.

But just as strange is another thing in the neighborhood, right on Benton Street between North Roman and North Debigny. "We call it 'The Volcano'," says Brennan Dougherty. "We just started the compost pile back in April, and it's already almost 15 feet tall and 40 feet long." Then like a proud parent she adds, "It produces the most beautiful soil you've ever seen." Dougherty is the manager of a farm in the Lower Nine where organic vegetables are grown and goats raised where drug deals used to take place.

What's more, Dougherty is inspiring young people in other urban areas to plant and grow. Do read the whole thing--it will brighten your day!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Camera-ready and plate-perfect: New crops thrill documentary-makers and local chef

It was partly cloudy this morning, and the cucumbers were going wild (actually, better than wild)

Filmmakers from the Florida Department of Agriculture arrived early and will be here all week, preparing a documentary for the Commissioner's Environmental Leadership Award (to be presented this fall to a select group of businesspersons, including Robert Tornello)

And today, as always, we were greeted by pretty lettuces all in a row...

...which Chef Jason Cline of Tampa restaurant Bin 27 couldn't resist. He and Robert were talking salad ideas as he gathered the evening's offerings (our first customer!)

Mama loves looking at the flowers, like this delicate lavender eggplant blossom; the boys want to know when Nana can make some Melanzane alla parmigiana.

Ready for its closeup: just one of the scores of luscious butterhead lettuces we're harvesting today.

Red and green leaf-lettuces flourish in their nutrient channels.

3 Boys Farm makes the nightly news!

Sheena Parveen of Tampa Bay Fox interviews Robert Tornello at 3 Boys Farm:

RUSKIN - Robert Tornello is a laid-back environmentalist who's passionate about all things organic. He's a farmer at heart.

"This farm, to me, is kind of an expression of myself -- ha…not to get philosophical," he said.

3 Boys Farm is named after his three sons. Everything on his 10-acre farm was picked to lessen the impact on the environment. Insect nets line the greenhouses, eliminating the need for pesticides. The large fans save energy.

"So this way we cool the buildings and on the exhaust side we then capture that energy again and turn it back to power," Robert explained.

He captures, purifies, and stores 60,000 gallons of rainwater.

"We already know that we're going to withdrawal 10 million gallons less per year just from this one site," he said.

Solar and wind power will soon pump the stored water through the farm. Robert says the heat makes it hard for growing, but with cool, filtered water, it's a different story.

"This is changing that," he said. "I mean, it's basically like growing in an air-conditioned space."

Certainly something you feel the second you walk in.

Robert believes the results could be overwhelming -- growing in a smaller space with renewable energy, recycled water, and no pesticides.

"Where you would have 10 acres of tomatoes growing, as a quick example, you could do that in one acre of hydroponic greenhouses," Robert explained.

In the end, Robert hopes to feed the Bay Area healthy, affordable food, grown just as nature intended.