Posted on October 22, 2010 - by

FRESH 1% Winner: Our School at Blair Grocery

We are pleased to present the winner of this year’s FRESH 1% grant, Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG), an incredible organization located in the the New Orleans Lower 9th Ward.  You can see the 9 other organizations that were up for the grant on this page, and read more about why we started the FRESH 1% grant here.  We asked OSBG to write a big about who they are so you all could get to know them!  Below is their message to you.

Please consider donating to OSBG – you can do so directly from their front page. :)

-Lisa Madison, FRESH

Driving over the Claiborne Bridge into New Orleans Lower 9th Ward, you’ll see a gas station, the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School – the first and still only public school to return to the neighborhood and the Magnolia Corner Store. North of Claiborne, the view resembles a jungle. Thousands of lots remain vacant and hundreds more are neglected and overgrown. A mere 10 percent of the neighborhood population has returned since Katrina demolished New Orleans in 2005.

Take a walk down our street and the complex, intersecting challenges to resilience are impossible to ignore. Education, food security, safe spaces for after-school learning, meaningful employment opportunities, decent affordable housing and health care for folks who are themselves trying to lead a healthy lifestyle – none of these are in place in our neighborhood, and many individuals can’t quite seem to plug into the limited systems that are in place to make it work out for themselves. There remains a great deal of work to be done.

Amongst this landscape appears an oasis. Tall banana trees tower and lean into the street, a golden sun made of plywood scraps hangs on the fence. Flowers and green edibles abound. In the face of neglect, a handful of teachers and students have constructed beauty, growth, and potential. Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG) is an independent community school, sustainability education center, and food producing urban farm. Our mission is to create a resource-rich safe space for youth empowerment and sustainable community development. We envision a community where empowered youth work together in a reflective practice to actualize local, environmental justice based solutions to global challenges.

Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG), founded in 2008 by Nat Turner, is located in the old Blair Family Grocery. Turner came to the neighborhood with a black dog, a blue bus, and $12 in his pocket. He saw a need for a safe learning environment in a unique neighborhood that had one of the highest poverty and highest homeowner rates in New Orleans.

Our students, ages 13-19 are young people who have not found success in traditional public education, but need and deserve a supportive environment to learn and grow. They face serious life challenges, learning difficulties, and other educational obstacles, and if it weren’t for OSBG, most would not be in school otherwise. Despite the challenges our students and community face, together we are learning, growing and taking leadership in the development of sustainable community food enterprise.

We apply personalized learning strategies, and hands-on approaches to helping students connect to the curriculum while building real-life skills and developing the knowledge, capacity and agency to achieve their goals. Local challenges become the lens through which we work with students to understand larger lessons about education, society, environment, and economy. On any given day at OSBG it is possible to see students planning, planting and harvesting sprouts and micro-greens, analyzing the racial and economic history of New Orleans and its relationship to current challenges to food access, composting, learning construction skills to build a greenhouse or plumbing for aquaponics or water catchment, building vocabulary through studying hip-hop lyrics, researching ideal conditions for worms to redesign our vermicomposting system, or meeting with one of New Orleans top chefs to talk about their work at OSBG and sell them food they grew to sustain their school.

Despite the difficulties we have faced, and continue to face in our work, we have a lot to be proud of right now:

* During the Summer of 2010, Our School at Blair Grocery hosted nearly 500 high school and college students from around the country for 12-day intensive service-learning experiences as part of “Food Justice Summer”;
* We are in the final stages of renovating our building for final inspection, the old Blair Family Grocery Store, which sustained the damage of 15+ feet of water;
* We are growing and selling nearly $1500 per week of sprouts and microgreens to local restaurants and projecting $3000 per week by January, getting us closer to financial sustainability;
* We are providing meaningful and educational employment opportunities on the OSBG farm to 10 local youth, who work with us after-school and on weekends;
* We recently received notice that our grant proposal to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA was approved providing us with support “Toward a Viable and Sustainable Community Food Economy”;
* We will be participating in and hosting many elements of the 2010 Community Food Security Coalition’s conference in New Orleans this weekend;
* We hare begun our 2010-2011 school year with 5 full-time students, and anticipate 15 by Thanksgiving;
* and we are very proud to have won the national online vote for the FRESH 1% grant thanks to all of our supporters who helped spread the word about the contest, and the movie.

As we continue to push forward in our struggle for economic justice, food justice and educational justice for our community, we continue to need support in many ways. Make a donation by credit card on our blog at Donations of equipment and materials for both the farming and educational aspects of our work are always welcomed and appreciated too. We could always use more shovels, pitchforks and wheelbarrows. Classroom supplies like notebooks, computers, printers, books and other resources that our students can take advantage of to learn and grow are wonderful. Dedicated interns and volunteers are always welcomed. Services like printing, website development, etc. could be helpful. Vehicles that aren’t in constant need of repair would be great….but anyways, we could go on and on. When you are building something like we are, there is always more things you could use, and more work to do. Without all of the support we have received so far from those that believe in our work, we would never have made as much progress as we have.

What we really need are mass-based political movements calling citizens of this nation to uphold democracy and basic human rights for everyone to be educated and have enough good food to eat, and to work on behalf of ending subordination and domination in all its forms – to work for justice, transforming our educational and food systems. In Will Allen’s Good Food Manifesto for America, he challenged us all to “demand [and take] action… [so that collectively], we can move along a continuum to make sure that all of citizens have access to the same fresh, safe, affordable good food regardless of their cultural, social or economic situation.” Our School at Blair Grocery will continue to take up that challenge in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and beyond.



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  1. Visit My Website

    November 3, 2010


    Bruce A. Jackson said:

    Great story! I am trying to start a similar project here in Denver, CO with locally grown produce retailed to the low income district and incorporate neighborhood kids by offering academic tutoring after school and working in the food coop. I would love to intern or volunteer to learn all I can. I have just $5000 as startup money. Learning how Mr. Turner got his start would help the Denver project become a, “Our School at Nana’s Grocery”, link to the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, LA. Good Luck!

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    November 3, 2010


    Dave Logsdon said:

    I just heard Will Allen from the Growing Power group out of Milwaukee. This sounds like it was cut from the same beautiful cloth as that program. The urban food growing movement is truly the heart of a real “revolution” in this country!

  3. Visit My Website

    November 3, 2010


    Fred Harris said:

    I was very happy to read the story of “Our School at Blair Grocery”, and wanted to say that the health of our Nation is at risk daily, from the factory farmed food most of us eat! Thanks for all your efforts, and let this be JUST the BEGINNING of the fight to take back the wholesome foods we were able to buy just 50 years ago!

  4. Visit My Website

    November 4, 2010


    Anonymous said:

    i am concerned that you are building back in the same place that was flooded. we have to not build our house upon the sand,,,,,,we cannot hold back the ocean,,,(even tho some are trying)
    i hear your concern and desire to make things better for all in the area.