Sunday, March 13, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
This is a re-post of an entry I wrote for the 2010/2011 Disaster Politics class blog from our time in New Orleans over winter break. I encourage everyone to visit it (http://oxyinneworleans.wordpress.com/), as well as the blog of Our School at Blair Grocery, an inspiring example of empowerment and food justice we also got to work with (http://schoolatblairgrocery.blogspot.com/)
Here is a brief look at Gotreaux Family Farms:
In a bit of a departure from our time at the Lower Ninth Ward Community Village, a group of us were fortunate to travel to Scott, LA to visit Gotreaux Family Farms, along with students from New York 2 New Orleans currently housed at Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG).
Situated on 28 acres 60 miles west of Baton Rouge, the operation contains an innovative set of hydroponic and aquaponic system the Gotreaux family uses to raise organic tilapia. What makes this system special is its process of cycling phyto plankton through above-ground tanks that provide the vast majority of the tilapias’ diet without necessitating any use of antibiotics or chemical inputs.
This “green water” (caused by the color of the phyto plankton) then flows from the recycling pump tanks to human-made ditches that draw the nutrient rich water to the crop rows and the compost pile outside the tents that house the tilapia. Instead of waste water flowing back into potable water sources like those used in many conventional fish farms, the adjacent vegetable crops and soil are nourished organically.
It was hard to ignore the sound of hundreds of chickens roaming the acres of pasture across from the tilapia tanks and crop rows. Raised for nine and a half weeks, instead of the conventional four, the chickens are free to feed and stroll the 20 acres of pasture without restriction. For anyone who is familiar with Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm (profiled in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “Food Inc.” and “Fresh”), Gotreaux Farms uses an “eggmobile” to strategically transport the chickens to fresh grass.
Outside of the operational details of the farm, there is an important human side to the Gotreaux story. Bill Gotreaux, who runs the farm with his wife and 10 children, provided his explanation for starting the farm by stating that is was for purely health reasons. A career in the mechanical field had apparently given him dangerously high levels of chemicals, including arsenic. In short, he decided to raise his own organic food to save his life. This lifestyle change eventually became the farm we visited, but according to Mr. Gotreaux it has not been easy to create a food community embracing organic, fully sustainable foods that have historically been absent from the meat-centric diet that makes up Cajun cuisine: “This is Cajun country – they don’t eat vegetables.”
On a final note, there is an important connection to be made between the work of Gotreaux Family Farms and Our School at Blair Grocery. In a sense they are both trying to address food justice and community needs. For Gotreaux it is a wider food community that currently does not have the proper access to ‘good’, sustainable food (The vast majority of tilapia sales are to New Orleans-based vendors). For Our School, it is addressing youth empowerment through food justice in the Lower Ninth Ward. In both cases I believe that the government has failed to support the work being done. Bill Gotreaux detailed how the recently passed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act could effectively close down his operation due to increased regulation of smaller farms (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alison-rose-levy/food-safety-why-food-safety-bi_b_795515.html). Government focus, however, has failed to address major food and education disparities in communities like the Lower Ninth. This is where Our School provides a unique space for a larger empowerment movement that has yet to be fully supported despite community involvement.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Yesterday a group of nine FEASTers drove out to Pomona to take a look at their farm. We met with Professor Rick Hazlett, Professor Juan Araya and a few Pomona students and alum. Overall it was incredibly inspirational and I can definitely foresee some joint events between our two operations.
The Environmental Analysis program at Pomona has provided a tremendous amount of institutional support for the gardening/farming movement on campus that started as a guerilla garden in the late 1990s. Since then, sustainable agriculture has found its place in the Environmental Analysis curriculum. As with any movement for change, they have experienced administrative road blocks but over time their efforts have materialized. Integrating sustainable agriculture or agroecology into the academic curriculum is a wonderful way to lend legitimacy to a student-run garden. Hopefully we can achieve that here at Oxy in the next year or two. I had an amazing time touring their farm and hearing about the challenges they have faced and overcome. Check out pictures on Facebook and Picasa.
Monday, October 18, 2010
I went on the Sustainability retreat organized by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life this weekend for Fall Break. Overall it was an amazing experience and I think everyone had a great time. We left early on Saturday and drove to Ojai where we met Steve Sprinkel and Olivia Chase. Together they run an organic farm, CSA, grocery store and restaurant as the farmer and the cook respectively. We worked with Steve at the farm for most of Saturday, picking pumpkins, brussel sprouts, carrots, potatoes and beans. Then we stopped by the Ojai festival and finished with a fabulous meal at their restaurant. We even ate the potatoes we had picked. I had an eggplant, squash and pumpkin tagine with polenta and we all had amazing chocolate cake for dessert. Here is their website if you are interested!
We spent the night at a campground close by and had a long conversation around the campfire that touched on a variety of topics but most notably sustainability, spirituality, the importance of food and what a great day it had been. On Sunday, after a lazy morning at the campground we packed up and went to local hot springs to eat lunch and take a dip before the drive back to campus.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
We'll be meeting in the garden tomorrow for the usual activities around 5 pm. There might even be some hot cocoa so bring a mug!!
On Friday, October 8th, author Katherine Leiner will be giving a presentation from 1 to 2 pm in the Morrison Lounge. Her book, Growing Roots, profiles young leaders in the sustainable food movement. You shouldn't miss this!
I am arranging a get together with Rick Hazlett, a professor at Pomona who teaches their Farms and Gardens class, and probably some Pomona students who are involved with their farm. It will be on Tuesday, October 19th. It is the Tuesday of Fall Break. We will either meet here at Oxy or go to Pomona and see their operation. Please let me know if you are interested in participating in this!
This Sunday is CicLAvia; it's a 7.5 mile route through the streets of LA, which will be only open for BIKES! Giulia is leaving from the garden at 10 am and anyone who wants to go should bring $1.50 for the train, a bike and some water. The whole thing should take about 2.5 hours. If you don't have a bike, check one out from the BikeShare in the LIBRARY!
Lastly, Tour De Fat is on Saturday, October 23. It is a bike, beer and music festival sponsored by the New Belgium Brewery. If we can get some people to volunteer to help with the "take down" of the event from 5 to 7 pm (tables, tents, clean up, etc), we can make some money for FEAST! As a volunteer, you'll get a free t-shirt and a beer token (if you're 21 or over)! This will be in the Historic Downtown LA Park. Let me know ASAP if you are interested!