Apr 9, 2024 - Business

Grow Dat Youth Farm's future uncertain at New Orleans City Park

Photo shows people gardening in a field at Grow Dat Youth Farm.

Photo: Courtesy of Grow Dat Youth Farm

A disagreement continues to churn between New Orleans City Park and Grow Dat supporters after discovering the youth farm was erased on the park's new master plan.

Why it matters: The plan isn't final, but it represents a significant vision divide on how New Orleanians see the future of the city's largest park.

Catch up quick: The nonprofit that manages City Park has been working on a new master plan since last July to redesign how the 1,300-acre park that spans Mid-City to Lakeview is used.

State of play: Grow Dat is an urban farming nonprofit that works primarily with young New Orleanians of color to teach them about growing food and developing their interpersonal skills.

  • Since 2011, the organization has grown nearly half a million pounds of food, much of which it sells through its subscription CSA program.
  • When it got started, the program worked with Tulane's Small Center for initial guidance. Tulane still holds the formal agreement for the land use with City Park on behalf of Grow Dat.

Friction point: Grow Dat's lease will expire in 2027, and City Park does not plan to renew it, according to emails obtained by Verite.

  • City Park officials also claim Grow Dat owes back rent of more than $250,000, Verite reports.

Yes, but: Grow Dat tells Axios that City Park Conservancy never formally notified them about overdue rent.

  • "However, Grow Dat takes our financial obligations seriously," Grow Dat leadership told Axios on Monday, adding that they are "very willing" to discuss the estimate with park leaders.

Driving the news: Both groups confirm to Axios they are talking and hoping for a long-term resolution.

  • City Park Conservancy said there were a "number of productive, constructive conversations" with Grow Dat leadership last week.
  • There is time, the statement said, "to ensure that all programs are appropriately sited for success."

Context: The current location has deep utilitarian, financial and emotional ties to the program, Grow Dat leaders say.

  • Grow Dat also says it has contributed "significant capital projects," valued at $685,000, to improve the land, according to a Q&A document prepared by the program.
  • Plus, the site is home to a memorial garden for a Grow Dat student who was hit and killed by a school bus near the farm.

Zoom in: City Council vice president JP Morrell said he awarded grant funds last year to Grow Dat in honor of the student, and "I refuse to allow them to be gifted in vain."

  • "I'm calling on the City Park Conservancy to reconfigure their plans so that this critical community resource can continue its mission for generations of children to come," Morrell wrote in a statement Friday.

Between the lines: City Park sits on a former plantation, and like most public spaces in New Orleans, its history is tangled with conversations about racial equity and access.

  • Grow Dat supporters have referenced that history as the future of the program appears up in the air.

What's next: The next public meeting is planned for May.

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