The New Orleans East neighborhood (Village L’Este), with a prominent Vietnamese refugee community, has seen its share of disasters in recent times: Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill and subsequent financial downturn. This community’s resilience runs deep – spanning decades, generations and continents – and is at the heart of its culturally-rooted placekeeping efforts. One such effort started as a grassroots, resident-driven urban farming and aquaponics program to create sustainable jobs for those impacted by the hurricane and oil spill. Fishing and growing food were part of the Vietnamese community’s way of life. This community has both the passion and the skills that made starting an urban farming effort a natural step towards economic recovery while at the same time maintaining and expressing its culture.
VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative
Culturally Rooted Recovery & Workforce Development
Mary Queen Viet Nam CDC
New Orleans, LA
Mary Queen Viet Nam CDC
New Orleans, LA
“Before Hurricane Katrina, I worked at a body shop fixing cars. After the hurricane and I returned home, I lost my job so I mowed lawns for a living. Afterward, […] MQVNCDC were looking for people to participate in the VEGGI [urban farming workforce development] program and I was really happy to participate. I was one of the 1st participant[s] and was really happy with MQVNCDC accepting me in the program to further the growth of the program.”
“What we found was that a lot of people were growing produce to supplement the cost of living, and growing in such excess that we found we could sell some of that excess produce in the city and find a way to generate income for folks.”
MQVN Community Development Corporation (MQVNCDC) is a non profit organization created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in order to address the issues of the Vietnamese-New Orleanian community in New Orleans East (Village L’Este). In 2011, MQVNCDC – in response to the idea generated at a community summit – started a community urban farming workforce development project, now known as the VEGGI (Village de l’Est Green Growers Initiative) Farmers Cooperative. Unemployment and food access were two major issues facing the Vietnamese community at this time. Village L’Este was a USDA-identified food dessert. The 2010 BP oil spill was both an economic and environmental disaster, driving a high number of Vietnamese fishers into unemployment, and recovery plans and investments were failing to address the needs of this less visible ethnic community.
The Vietnamese have a strong historic and cultural connection to agriculture. And it was this connection that ultimately led the community to turn to urban farming as a possible solution for the loss of the jobs in the fishing industry as well as the overall loss of employment post-disaster. In an urban setting and with minimal access to land, aquaponics allowed residents to use the limited space in their backyards and support the growing of vegetables without soil.
“We have not worked for a long time, we were retired people. Before VEGGI, we went fishing. We went out. We also have a small garden of veggie we grew to eat. We became involved with VEGGI because we didn’t have much to do as retired folk. We liked the group and liked growing. We want to do it to make us happy. What we like about the VEGGI program is the youth, the people in the program. They made us happy. And when we grow vegetables, and they are green and healthy we are happy.”
VEGGI Farmers Cooperative is dedicated to empowering growers in the Greater New Orleans area, starting in New Orleans East, in order to create sustainable, high quality jobs that enhance the quality of life of communities through increasing local food access and promotion of sustainable agriculture. The cooperative structure decreases individual operational costs and increases access to larger markets and customers, while also preventing community members from growing too much and competing with one another.
- Provide sustainable, high quality jobs in urban agriculture, initially to community members who lost their jobs because of the BP oil spill
- Provide quality, fresh, local produce to local markets and restaurants
- Increase local food access
- Promote sustainable agriculture
- This wouldn’t have worked if community members weren’t the ones that wanted to farm in the first place – they were knowledgeable and passionate. Even if staff left, it would still work because community members were dedicated. But if we didn’t have the right community members, it wouldn’t have worked.
- We want to make sure we involve not just the Vietnamese community, but also the African American and growing Latino community. Trying to do this is difficult. Not everyone can meet face to face currently and relationships take time to build. But we recognize this is something we have to work on because our community is not just Vietnamese and we want to make sure we are inclusive.