I love the new things in my life that are considered local to New Orleans. Prior to moving I hadn’t really investigated what would be grown in my future home. From what I can recall I never saw any goods traced back to Louisiana in the Union Square Whole Foods, so it has been a delight to see the bounty of food grown, raised, and caught in nearby soils, pastures, and waters. The local/organic/food movement isn’t as restricted to the northeast and northwest as polls and surveys seems to suggest. New Orleans is recognized as a food haven, but not as a poster child for fresh produce. Most commonly people think of fried shrimp falling out of massive po’boys, smoky red beans and rice, rouxs thickened with heavy cream, and powder sugar drenched beignets. New Orleans superstar chef John Besh said, “Cooking food from New Orleans, I grew up thinking pork is vegetable.” Sure not everyone understands that collard greens cooked with a hambone even though there is no meat in the final product is not considered vegetarian, but the state has a lot more to offer than I imagined.
This morning I went to collect my free “box” in return for a 4 hour volunteer shift at Hollygrove Farm & Market. The store, which operates as a sort of food hub – aggregating, distributing, and retailing goods from nearby farmers, as well as an educational farm and test ground for hydroponics and aquaponics – opens at 10am. I headed out this morning without checking their hours and arrived before the doors opened. Surprisingly I was not alone, a throng of people waited patiently sipping coffees and chatting. Hollygrove is widely responsible for expanding my knowledge of local produce. They have a very well run volunteer program where in return for sorting, weighing, and stocking produce you receive a CSA-style box. The boxes consist of fresh produce as well as pantry staples such as sugar, grains, and nuts. For obvious reasons it is very popular volunteer work and the positions fill up almost immediately after they are posted online.
Through these boxes I have learned the breadth of things grown in the “Sportsman’s Paradise.” Juicy giant creole tomatoes, endless okra, raw sugar, peaches tasting of sunshine, so many greens (mustard greens, rampini, arugula, kale!, mixed lettuces), various grains of rice (brown, popcorn, white), pecans and peanuts, varieties of eggplant I’ve never even heard of, squash, sweet potatoes, green onions, peppers (bell to jalapeno and everything in between) sweet corn, herbs, citrus, and I’m probably forgetting lots. The other wonderful thing here is there are TWO growing seasons. Also, there will be need to succumb to barely ripe Mexican berries when the craving strikes this winter, because here strawberry season starts in January!
So yes, while I must admit I am a little jealous of the recent instagrams I have seen of people donning cozy sweaters and picking apples, I can’t deny that I am happy to go pick up my box wearing a summer dress. After all, all y’all northerners won’t be so happy about them apples when that is the only local fruit you can get for the next 6 months!