Veggi Farmer’s Cooperative: How A Vietnamese Community Commandeered Their Food System
In 2005, a vast amount of the Vietnamese community living in New Orleans came from fishing and agricultural backgrounds. They farmed on their individual plots and had an unofficial but well-known schedule and location to sell their produce.
Then, Hurricane Katrina blasted through with insurmountable levels of damage. Most residents lived at least 6 miles away from the nearest grocery store, and 20% of them lacked a means of transportation to get there. Homes were blown away, but gardens and farms had an even worse survival rate.
From the debris of this tragedy, grew the Veggi Farmer’s Cooperative, as in VEGGI (Village de l’Est Green Growers Initiative), “food rebels” who are genuinely changing the way we eat. Not just what we put in our mouths–but creating a whole new mind-set about food and how it affects our livelihoods and communities.
The group faced “deep” challenges from the start, such as wetland mitigation restrictions on digging the 28-acre plot for which they had dearly fought. Then, a second disaster, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, displaced overnight even more of this community who made their living from fishing.
The urban farm swiftly switched to an aquaponics farm model, a revolutionary concept that mimics nature in order to grow vegetables and raise fish together by combining two different methods: aquaculture, the raising of fish, and hydroponics, growing vegetables without soil.
In November of 2010, the group pulled together and started organizing as a co-op. They are now called the Veggi Farmer’s Cooperative and implement both aquaponics and land agriculture techniques. They now grow organic produce and fish that are distributed to 16-20 restaurants, sell in two markets, as well as feed themselves and their community with everything from Bibb lettuce to Taro root and Vietnamese coriander. They are even experimenting with greenhouse production for a healthy year-round supply of greens and creating a community seed bank and two edible gardens at local schools.
When asked why they chose to grow organic, they responded that this is the way that the Vietnamese community knew how to farm, and after seeing all of the pollution and chemicals that were released into the environment after the hurricane and the oil spill, they couldn’t imagine another way.
Find them on Facebook: VeggiFarmersCooperative