Even though the Ninth Ward of New Orleans has never fully recovered from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina which killed 1’836 people in 2005, David Young has created a lush oasis of free food and sustainability right in the heart of the community.
Young founded a volunteer-run organisation, “Capstone Community Gardens” to support low income city residents, as well as globally endangered honeybees that are in need of a safe, environmentally-friendly home.
Young started the gardening initiative after Katrina destroyed much of the district’s infrastructure. The gardens, erected in more than 30 abandoned lots, grow everything from swiss chard, to brussel sprouts, mustard greens, kale, cucumbers, and tomatoes, all totally accessible to the community free of charge.
“There are no good grocery stores around this area,” 39-year-old Capstone volunteer Amy Karus told the press. “The Lower Ninth Ward is the area that was devastated the most, the worst of the worst.”
Although there is a food pantry that opens once each month to the public, it usually doesn’t provide the sustenance needed to feed all the district’s poorer residents.
“If you’re low-income, if you don’t have any money, if you have no way to support yourself, that is not enough to live off of. They give a small amount of food for the entire month,” said Karus. “So David has made sure that these gardens are all over the community and people can go harvest them at any time, if they feel the need for the food, which I think is a wonderful thing.”
In addition to being an important food supply to New Orleans, the gardens also play host to rescued honeybees.
Due to the dilapidated condition of many buildings here, homes often become infested with bees and homeowners need a solution. Instead of calling an exterminator to destroy the beneficial insects, they can now call Young.
Using a low-suction vacuum, the urban farmer sucks up all of the bees, and transports them and their hives to the gardens. There, they can live freely among wildflowers and clover giving back to their rescuer by pollinating his flowers and vegetables.
Capstone is also home to a group of goats who earn their keep by “mowing” the weeds in unkempt local lots that were abandoned or in disrepair. This gives nourishment to the goats as well as keeping the community tidy without consuming fossil fuels via lawn mowers.
The goats also share a hutch with a flock of happy chickens who create a steady supply of eggs that provide an important protein source for poor families.
“We’ll take the eggs that we collect from the chickens and we’ll take them to people, who, you know, either can’t get out of their house to get food for themselves, or they don’t have enough money.” Says Karus. “Just yesterday we delivered food bags with eggs, cabbage, spinach, and greens to those who needed it.”
“I call David the Santa Claus of Food, cause he seriously looks like Santa Claus.” Karus says with a laugh.
However unlike the Santa Claus myth, Young doesn’t just work one day of generosity, he’s ready to help the community all year round.
“If we all did our part, if we all did what we could for our community, to help one another, to help the environment as much as we could, could you imagine how peaceful, how wonderful life would be?”
If you’d like to find out more about Capstone or look into volunteering of donating, check out the garden’s website.