NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The LSU AgCenter is growing bucket loads of vegetables — some 60 to 80 pounds of fresh produce per week — at a new demonstration garden just steps from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, feet from the zooming traffic of Tchoupitoulas Street and smack under the watchful gaze of a giant Poseidon statue.
Where else but New Orleans could you see that?
The garden is on two-tenths of an acre on a plot of land at Tchoupitoulas and Henderson streets, next to the convention center and Mardi Gras World (hence Poseidon's appearance). It was planted in February and is part of a two-year research project evaluating the effectiveness of organic poultry litter fertilizer.
The garden's bounty has been a boon to local culinary charitable programs, particularly Cafe Reconcile, Cafe Hope and Second Harvest Food Bank, which have received the produce. The garden's findings also can be a resource for local backyard gardeners looking to do more organic farming.
Lee Rouse, the LSU AgCenter Orleans Parish extension agent, and Bobby Fletcher, the AgCenter's area director for urban programs and development, will discuss the garden's purpose and the fertilizer study's preliminary findings on Saturday at the second annual Farm to Table International Symposium at the convention center.
The conference, which ends Monday, is a gathering of national experts and policymakers in agriculture, food distribution, restaurants and food service organized by the Southern Food and Beverage Institute, in partnership with LSU AgCenter and the convention center.
But the event also has much to offer home gardeners who are thinking more about their tomato plants and herb plots than global sustainable food systems.
"It's not about how to grow better lemons, but we do talk about how backyard gardeners fit into the whole food system," said Liz Williams, president of the Southern Food and Beverage Institute.
Among the panel discussions will be a talk on raising bees and the health of bee colonies. "On that panel, we've got Kevin Mixon, who is the head of the (Beekeepers of Tangi-Tammington) north shore beekeepers association and is an expert on keeping bees in your backyard. We made sure we had someone like that on the panel so it wouldn't just be about bee colony collapse and what that means for the almond industry in California, even though that's important."
Another program will be led by Nathanael Johnson, a food writer for Grist.org who spent six months reporting on genetically modified food. "With cross pollination, if you have GM seeds anywhere near you, you could have GM food growing in your backyard," Williams said. "I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but you should know what they are and what they mean."
Other talks on the schedule include an overview of organic farming; a nutrition panel taking an expansive look at the differences between traditionally produced foods versus industrially produced foods "with regards to taste, nutrition, human health, animal welfare, local economies, social justice and the environment;" and a session on the dangers of lead contaminated soil in urban gardening.
Chef demonstrations, film screenings and farm-to-table meals also are on the agenda, while Edward Avalos, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, will give the session's closing remarks. See the complete schedule at www.f2t-int.com .
Those who sign up for the conference are invited to tour the LSU AgCenter demonstration garden at the convention center on Friday beginning at 8 a.m.
The garden is one of three in the state participating in the fertilizer research project. It's not a fully organic garden, as the LSU AgCenter uses some non-organic products to control pests and disease, Fletcher said.
The garden features about 10 to 12 rows, each about 120 feet in length. Right now it's planted with zucchini, pole beans, carrots, cucumbers, field peas, bell pepper, cantaloupes, herbs, basil, rosemary, tarragon and sage.
The farm-to-table movement is trendy today but, as Rouse said, it's not new to backyard gardeners. "Home gardeners have always gone straight from the garden to the table," he said.