"No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities - always see them for they're always there." -- Norman Vincent Peale
Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans five years ago flooding 80% of the city, destroying homes, stores, schools, churches, and lives. When the levees broke the Lower Nine, one of the poorest areas of the city, found itself under 15 feet of water. The predominately African American community was almost wiped off the map. Even today only one fifth of the original residents have returned and the infrastructure is almost non-existent.
Maybe New Yorker Nat Turner saw an empty canvas instead of abandoned lots when he arrived in the Ninth Ward with $12 in his pocket. A schoolteacher by trade, he first tutored neighborhood kids out of an old school bus, but then a larger idea took shape when someone suggested he ask the Blair family if he could teach in their abandoned grocery store. Blair Grocery would become his staging ground for a revolutionary school and garden. A garden that could potentially offer food security for 3,000 people and change the way kids learn.
Nat converted the gutted former grocery into a one-room schoolhouse, calling it Our School at Blair’s Grocery. Then, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, he transformed the half-acre surrounding the school into an organic micro-farm complete with chickens and goats. Plants like potatoes, squash, okra, and dill grow in old car tires the kids found around the neighborhood. Rising 15 feet above the garden is an impressive compost pile nicknamed “The Volcano.” The Volcano, which grew with the help of vegetable waste from a local Whole Foods, now provides soil for the garden as well as income for the school from compost sales.
The garden is impressive but the school is no slouch either. Not only do the students gain abundant environmental experience from working on the farm, they also take classes in Urban Development which includes: classes on restoring buildings, designing flood proof new homes, and neighborhood planning. In fact, the school has been so successful that students as far away as North Philadelphia and New York have arranged cross-country trips to see how it works.
In an odd twist on the classic school/community model Our School at Blair Grocery is posed to provide food and resources for its neighborhood instead of vica versa. But as with any start up they still need funding. Turner requested funds on their blog on August 6th because they would like to make further repairs to their one room schoolhouse (aka the old Grocery building). It’s one room – let’s cough up some dough for what could be the future of education in America.
For more information on Our School at Blair Garden go to http://schoolatblairgrocery.blogspot.com/.
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Image sourced from: http://neworleansvfp.ning.com/