Mowing the ACORN Farm

New Orleans    The ACORN Farm and Orchard is now in its sixth year, having broken our first ground on our half-acre in New Orleans’ lower 9th ward in 2013.  Walking the property at different times of the year can be quite amazing now that a number of seasons have come and gone.  Long row beds are laid out nicely while others are bordered by boards or cement blocks.  Fig trees are filling out.  Pecan trees aren’t fruiting yet, but with more than five years in, we’re getting closer.  This year papaya trees have grown like weeds with the larger trees heavy with fruit.  Citrus in the orchard looks promising, since there was no freeze this last winter as there was the winter before.  Banana trees may also yield this year. There will be some treats around the city and at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse before the end of the summer!

The farm manager, Gavin McCall, has done a great job with the operation and knows his stuff, but he’s gone for a month or more.  Mi companera, who we drafted to oversee the farm and work with Gavin to involve our members, mentioned early on July 4th that she and a friend were going over to the farm.  She happened to add that the grass was now up to her knees.  Too much rain and too little time had meant that the grass didn’t get mowed before Gavin went out of town it turned out, and that had been weeks ago.

During the farm’s first year, I had gone down there every couple of weeks and mowed the grass to keep the city and NORA, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, off our backs, but that was years ago.  I hadn’t missed not mowing, but I could read in between the lines.  This is New Orleans where the climate resembles the tropics this time of year producing a steamy mix of heat, rain, and humidity, that plants of all description drink in like an elixir, and the rest of us try to slog through and survive until fall, sometime in late October.  I didn’t need to hear about the problem twice.  I said I would meet them down there.

I don’t mind mowing.  It’s something I know how to do and have done since I was old enough to handle a mower.  At 12 years old, finally living in my first New Orleans summer, I started mowing lawns for money with my brother.  The first was down the block, then another around the corner, followed by jobs farther afield when friends of my parents would go on vacation and need the yard done.  In 1960, it was two dollars for a straight yard and three dollars with edging.  Sometimes we made more weeding flower beds.  My brother was underpaid at a quarter to a dollar.  My kids, when old enough, mowed yards as the Yard Masters.  My dad mowed his yard religiously, every week.  His dad, my grandfather worked on orange ranches, and all the generations before him in Germany were farmers.  His name was Erdmann, meaning “man of the soil.”  These days I mow our little postage stamp yard, my daughter’s large yard around the corner, and, since my son is out of town, my parents’ yard as well.  We’ve done a lot of different things in life, but let’s face it, we’re mowing people.

The grass was as high as advertised, but starting at 9:30 after getting his “call,” was too late in the game for this job.  Ninety-minutes later, I might have finished one-third of the job, but that was enough celebration for Independence Day.  Saturday found me starting the mower at 6 AM sharp with sunrise two minutes later.  There’s something peaceful about the job.  You can see the progress with every swipe.  The smell of the various grasses, whether the classic St. Augustine or some Bermuda that was in a patch, or the stalky hay-like weeds everywhere was rejuvenating.  When I was a kid, I used to think I had hay fever, because my dad had hay fever, but I don’t.  By 8 AM, I’d done what could be done, and even though another hour might have been needed, this was good enough to pass muster with the neighbors and fend away any other complaints.

Just like in organizing where there is no substitute sometimes for getting out there and hitting the doors yourself and going to some local meetings or leadership debriefs to understand what’s really going on and needs to be done, my mowing stint taught me a lesson:  time for us to get a riding mower!

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Volunteers May be the Only Good Thing to Hit New Orleans after Katrina

DSCN0432New Orleans    Opinions are divided on the New Orleans so-called recovery after Hurricane Katrina, and it is more than a glass half-full, half-empty situation. Talking to Vanessa Gueringer on Wade’s World, her articulate anger still rages, and listening to her describe how her community in the lower 9th ward has had to fight to win the fulfillment of every promise to the area, it is impossible not to agree. There are many in the city who are ready to evacuate if they hear the word “resilience” even one more time.

Presidents Obama and Bush have now visited along with the current and former HUD secretary and a host of others. I listened to the disappointment expressed by neighbors and colleagues that President Obama didn’t double down on his commitment to rebuild. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been everywhere enjoying his Mardi Gras moment. Former Mayor and current head of the Urban League Marc Morial was more sober, releasing his report on the state of black New Orleans, where the short summary is: bleak with little change or hope.

DSCN0424-1 DSCN0423-1 DSCN0422-1The one place where almost everyone can find agreement is in thanking the hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of organizations who have come to the city over the last ten years as volunteers to help in any way they can. Appropriately,  even the City of New Orleans and Landrieu somehow understood this universal consensus and got behind the effort. People of good will from around the world made a difference to New Orleans in some way shaming our own government for its inaction, inequity, and racism. And, what better way to mark the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina than by organizing a humongous volunteer service day.

The volunteer goal for the anniversary was 10,000 people and for a change almost the same level of preparation and support is going into the affair as you find during Carnival season, which until this anniversary is the New Orleans benchmark for volunteer extravaganzas. Hosts of nonprofits were recruited to the effort. Individual projects by Tulane University and Xavier University were subsumed into the overall city campaign. ACORN International is hosting 100 volunteers at the ACORN Farm. A Community Voice has 100 volunteers canvassing the Upper 9th Ward, and Southern United Neighborhoods (SUN) has another 100 in the Lower 9th Ward. It’s all in!

There are even corporate sponsors. Just as Walmart trucks rolled into the area after Katrina and there were special vouchers for purchases in their stores, Walmart is a big sponsor of this volunteer assault on the city as well. Coordinators got water, peanut butter crackers, and of course blue volunteer t-shirts at pickup points at Walmart stores throughout the week. The blue in the t-shirts, not surprisingly, looks identically like the Walmart blue customers see in their stores, but, hey, what else would you expect, they say Walmart on the back along with sponsors.

DSCN0425-1 DSCN0428-1 DSCN0426-1The volunteers will only work three hours, and given the heat and humidity that surprises so many in late summer in the city, that probably has more to do with public health than public need. They will have lunch and entertainment later at the Superdome. You get it, right, we’re saying thank you, and whether corporate and tacky, or political and boosterism, we all really mean it.

DSCN0429-1 DSCN0430-1 DSCN0431-1For real, this is thanks to all the volunteers that made such a difference and came to help New Orleans. We’re hoping you feel welcome enough to keep on coming until the job is finished!

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Kindle version of Battle for the Ninth for reduced price to mark the 10th Anniversary. 

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