Growing A Stronger Lower Ninth Ward
Backyard Gardeners Network is a Lower 9th Ward based nonprofit organization whose mission is to sustain and strengthen the historically self-sufficient and deeply rooted community of the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, LA using our own food growing traditions as a platform to build community, revitalize the neighborhood and preserve our cultural heritage. We currently manage two community gardens in the Lower 9th Ward, the Laurentine Ernst Community Garden and the Guerrilla Garden.
The primary value that guides the work of the Backyard Gardeners Network is Community Control and Benefit. This means:
- Leadership that reflects the majority of the community. The Lower Ninth Ward is a predominately low-income Black community who are New Orleans natives or long-time residents.
- Respect and reverence for the knowledge and resources within our community. We look to find “experts” among our community first. We value the stories of community members, especially our elders. We seek collaborations and partnerships in our community.
- The Lower Ninth Ward community are the ultimate beneficiaries of the work of BGN.
The Backyard Gardeners Network was founded in 2009 by Jenga Mwendo. Through talking with neighbors, she realized that the Lower Ninth Ward had a recent and rich cultural history of backyard gardening, something she was not aware of growing up. Many elders recalled a time when nearly everyone had backyard gardens and fruit trees grew throughout the neighborhood. Renowned poet and author Kalamu ya Salaam said about growing up in the Lower 9th Ward, “We picked blackberries and everything that was growing. You didn’t think nothing of it. It’s just what you did.” These food growing traditions not only provided food, but were a part of creating a healthier, closer-knit and more self-reliant community.
601 Forstall Street
The Laurentine Ernst Garden is a community garden established long before Katrina. The garden’s namesake, Mrs. Laurentine Ernst was an avid gardener who lived on Jourdan Avenue. She was known for her St. Claude beautification project; she would carry buckets of water to St. Claude Avenue every day to water her plants. After Katrina hit, neighbor and dedicated gardener Ms. Patsy Story tried to maintain the garden on her own, but due to health problems and challenges rebuilding her own house, the garden fell into disrepair. A Garden Committee was formed and met on a regular basis to maintain and plan the garden. The Committee established regular Garden Days, hosted waves of volunteers, and held events at the garden. Now a Backyard Gardeners Network project, the garden is used by neighborhood residents to grow vegetables in the five in-ground and raised garden plots.
600 Charbonnet Street
Once an overgrown dumping ground, this space is now a beautiful community greenspace, featuring a small fruit tree grove, a shade structure (rainwater catchment coming soon), raised garden beds, and an outdoor kitchen space. The Guerrilla Garden is about community building and community ownership, eliminating blight and improving food access. At the Guerrilla Garden, neighborhood residents to grow vegetables in the 10 in-ground and raised garden plots. Over the years, the garden has functioned as an open air community center, hosting a wide variety of programs and events for hundreds of Lower 9 residents and people across the country and even around the world!
- Lower 9 Growing StrongThe Lower 9th Ward has a rich cultural tradition of growing food. We work to encourage and support that tradition, and use it as a community-building tool. We want to bring people together in the gardens to grow, both literally and figuratively. Lower 9 Growing Strong builds upon the community’s already-established culture of growing and preparingContinue reading “Lower 9 Growing Strong”
- Food As MedicineMany people in our community suffer from diet-related health problems that are preventable – such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Food As Medicine is a weekly workshop series that focuses on food as a primary source of healing. We want to support our community in getting well and staying well, starting with food! The FoodContinue reading “Food As Medicine”
- Youth Internship ProgramThe purpose of the internship program is to provide a fertile training space for personal and professional development, soft job skills, community engagement, gardening education and program support that serves to continue the cultural tradition of food-growing in the Lower 9th Ward, deepen interns’ engagement and connection with their community, and model service-based work inContinue reading “Youth Internship Program”
- EBONY Magazine Names BGN Founder An Everyday Hero Next DoorFounder and Director, Jenga Mwendo sits down and talks with EBONY Magazine and is named an Everyday Hero Next Door.
- Jenga Mwendo On WBOKCheck out more episodes of us on WBOK HERE BGN Director Jenga Mwendo chats with Oliver Thomas on the Good Morning Show on WBOK 1230 AM. Interview with BGN Programming Coordinator Courtney Clark on her recent acknowledgement as NOLA.com Everyday Hero! BGN Director Jenga Mwendo chats with Nicole Sheppard, guest host of The Good MorningContinue reading “Jenga Mwendo On WBOK”
- BGN WebinarLearn more about Backyard Gardeners Network and the programming that we’re raising money to support by watching this 30-minute webinar. We recorded this webinar to share the work of Backyard Gardeners Network – including the core values that guide our work, as well as the purpose and impact of each of our programs. We hopeContinue reading “BGN Webinar”