FEEST was invited to lead a couple workshops during the 5th annual “Regrowing Community,” a program of The Renaissance Project. Greta Gladney, founder and organizer of the event, has been spearheading the Renaissance Project for 10 years, working to improve the quality of life for low-income communities of color in New Orleans “by increasing access to fresh, healthy food; improving education opportunities; catalyzing economic development and celebrating arts and culture.” (http://therenaissanceproject.la/about/mission/)
We stayed in the historical and beautiful Joan Mitchell Center in the 7th Ward, which was also where we hosted our workshops. We were blessed to be able to use this expansive kitchen and harvest the abundant citrus fruits and herbs growing on the property for our dinners.
Friday, Oct. 26th, 2012
Early Friday morning, we headed out to do two classroom visits to meet some of the students whom we would be working with in our workshop that evening. First we went to Eleanor McMain High School in Uptown, then McDonough 35 High School (the oldest public school post-Reconstruction educating youth of color). At both schools we attended Students at the Center classes, a college-credit class taught by Jim Randels and Kalamu ya Salaam. (www.sacnola.com)
We were completely blown away by the dialoguing, in-depth of understanding of the readings, sharing of personal stories, as well as application of the material to their own lives that the students were discussing. The students were exploring bell hooks, Amilcar Cabral, Plato, Paulo Freire, and George Bernard Shaw, just to name a few. Jim and Kalamu also enlightened us with some of the struggles that both students and teachers faced as a result of a deeply segregated and privatized school system. We left the classrooms inspired and profoundly moved by all their stories!
That evening (and a few delicious shrimp po’boys later), we gathered back at the Joan Mitchell Center to host our introductory dinner: “Cook It Up! Breaking Bread with F.E.E.S.T.” We began by harvesting rosemary, basil, tarragon, and other herbs from the garden with youth Niquana, Natalie, and Shanti, as well as adults from the community.
Greta had sourced 16 pounds of okra from George’s Produce. (George and Chanel Lafargue operate a farm stand in Terrytown on the Westbank.) As most of the F.E.E.S.T. team had never prepared this New Orleans staple, we luckily had Mama Jennifer from the Community Book Center, and Gia Hamilton from the Joan Mitchell Center lead the group in making a delicious smothered okra with tomatoes and shrimp served over rice. F.E.E.S.T. kitchen manager Roberto Ascalon led the youth in a baked chicken and green pepper dish.
We ate outside in the courtyard. Niquana led the Community Agreements while Shanti led us in our ritual of gratitude. At the table, we invited folks to co-create a Sharing Tree: the roots symbolizing where you come from (your culture, traditions, family), the trunk representing your support systems (community, organizations, church, family), and finally the leaves are the dreams you have for your community. Everyone was invited to write on a large tree diagram and fill in these areas, and each seat had a different colored leaf that folks could fill with their dreams and tape directly onto the tree. Some dreams included, “No more killing,” “a new media center,” “improvisational art spaces!” We were accompanied by live music and by the end of the night, we had almost no leftovers!
Saturday, Oct. 27th, 2012
The next day, we kicked off the morning by checking out the Community Book Center, a bookstore featuring African-American publications that doubles as a venue, art hub, and community center, and hung out with our new friends Mama Jennifer (helped us with the okra dish last night and was a force in the kitchen) and Chris Williams (organizer and poet). (http://www.communitybookcenter.com/)
In the afternoon we headed off to the Lower 9th ward to visit the urban farm, Our School at Blair Grocery. Founder of OSBG Nat Turner, a schoolteacher turned urban farmer, took us on a tour of the farm and shared with us some of his strategies, struggles, and vision for urban farming in a food desert. We walked away having purchased a garbage bag full of fresh chard, kale, arugula, and mixed greens called “revolutionary salad.” (http://schoolatblairgrocery.blogspot.com/)
That evening, after filling our stomachs with southern crawfish, we prepared for our next dinner. We had the honor of having Staffas Broussard, Renaissance Project Chair, come in to lead us in the creation of gumbo z’herbes, a traditional Louisiana dish based on loads of smothered greens, including our freshly harvested chard and kale from OSBG. Three of OSBG’s interns also came to our dinner – Jenny, Oliver, and Sydney. Among the abundant dishes that night were Roberto’s chicken and pork adobo, broiled brussel sprouts, corn bread, Greta’s meat and beans, more shrimp okra, fresh salad, and a dense and delicious chocolate cake!
Sydney and Oliver read the Community Agreements while Natalie led us in Gratitude. The table was decorated with fresh flowers and herbs from the Joan Mitchell Center grounds. It was a supreme meal with lots of rich conversation and laughter (including a hilarious family story shared by Mama Jennifer). Everyone who attended dinner walked away with a copy of the F.E.E.S.T. Manual and DVD, which we created as guides for others to learn our approach and how to start a F.E.E.S.T. in their own community. Contact us here if you would like to purchase a copy!
Sunday, October 28th, 2012
Our last morning in the magical city of New Orleans!
This morning we led a workshop titled: F.E.E.S.T.: Turning Dreams into Action! We were joined by mother and daughter Marla and Suhayla who both had remarkable gifts that they bring to their communities as well and strong ideas and visions for how to use their gifts to create change. We created a Dream Capsule to honor and remember these visions for our selves and our community. See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qbknwGQNfM&feature=share&list=UUGyk0IsnWu9taDehlVu9gxQ
We are so grateful for the generous support of our dear friends Randy Engstrom and Joselynn Tokashiki Engstrom who accompanied us throughout our trip. And a BIG thank you to Greta Gladney for being an awesome organizer and host for us in New Orleans!
Randy and Jos – We couldn’t have done it without you!
We <3 Greta!!
With love and respect,