New Orleans Charter Middle School (NOCMS) became the city's first charter school, founded by Jay Altman and concerned parents, who wanted a high quality open-admissions public middle school for their children. Dr. Tony Recasner became the school's first director. An organization called New Orleans Outreach, also founded by Altman, to bring volunteers and community resources into public schools, created an afterschool enrichment program that offered NOCMS children electives ranging from arts to bicycle repair.
Outreach's vice president, Karin Giger, recruited friends from New Orleans Town Gardeners, a Garden Club of America, to help her teach a weekly afterschool garden enrichment class called PropaGators at NOCMS. New Orleans Town Gardeners provided funds and volunteers (primarily Giger, Cathy Pierson and Carro Gardner) to teach PropaGators for more than seven years at NOCMS, inspiring many young gardeners and beautifying the school.
The NOCMS garden was literally how the future Edible Schoolyard New Orleans was able to take root, because the school leaders and the school community learned first-hand the valuable lessons that could be taught in the garden.
NOCMS became the top-performing open-admissions middle school in New Orleans. This school flooded during Hurricane Katrina and the campus, located in the Carrollton area, did not reopen.
Philanthropist Randy Fertel, a supporter of NOCMS, met chef and food activist Alice Waters, founder of the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA, at the Nation Institute Dinner, where Alice spoke of wanting to do something for post-Katrina New Orleans. Knowing that Tony Recasner was an avid supporter of school gardening and experiential learning at NOCMS, Randy suggested bringing Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard concept to New Orleans.
Green Charter School became one of the first public schools to open in New Orleans post-Katrina, operated by the former leaders of NOCMS, and attracting many former NOCMS students, faculty and staff, who rallied to reform Green.
Alice Waters visited the Green school campus, just weeks after the school had reopened to students. Tony Recasner (then serving as Green's school director), Randy Fertel, Cathy Pierson and Karin Giger met onsite to discuss how New Orleans could become the site of the first replication of Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard.
By April, Tony Recasner and Randy Fertel had visited The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley and Alice came to meet the developing Edible Schoolyard NOLA Task Force and Green Charter teachers. There was overwhelming support for the program to be replicated at Green.
Tony Recasner, Green's director at the time, believed that building and creating a garden would have an enormous therapeutic value for the children and families healing from Katrina. The vision was not to have a school with a garden; rather, to create gardens all around the school that would bring children, families, neighbors, and faculty together to re-envision what a public school could be like. It was seen as an opportunity to transform the physical campus while rebuilding the foundation of the school and the larger community.
ESYNOLA started with a small container garden in the school's side yard and help from the New Orleans Town Gardeners and other garden enthusiasts. Key volunteers, Karin Giger and Cathy Pierson, who had founded the garden program at NOCMS, rallied support of local and national individuals to form the ESYNOLA Task Force. The Ruth U. Fertel Foundation and the Octavia Foundation provided the first contributions to develop the garden and the first ESY director, Donna Cavato, was hired to develop the program.
Once the first staff person was hired the children wanted to garden immediately. While the larger garden was being designed, the children were engaged in building a butterfly garden, edible gardens in containers, and gardening on the front porch of Green. Landscape architects Marianne and Alan Mumford of Landscape Images volunteered their services and worked to engage children, families and teachers in the process of designing and building the garden.
The whole school community "dug in" and created a garden oasis that inspires, delights, and transforms the school experience for Green's students and staff.
Since then, Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA) has become one of six "founding edible schoolyards" that maintain ties with the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, helping to seed the movement that now boasts over 12,000 schoolyard gardens nationwide.
Visit the original Edible Schoolyard website.
Today Edible Schoolyard New Orleans maintains edible gardens at all five FirstLine school sites in New Orleans. We have a one-third acre garden at our flagship site at Green Charter School, a half-acre garden at Langston Hughes Academy, a small courtyard garden at Joseph Clark Preparatory High School, and our newly established garden at Phillis Wheatley Community School. ESYNOLA has opened most ambitious garden to date in October 2016: a one-acre teaching and production garden at our new Arthur Ashe Charter School site in the Gentilly / Oak Park neighborhood. Come watch us grow!
The 500 kindergarten through eighth grade students who attend Green, working with our garden staff and members of the community, maintain our edible garden at Green School. Volunteers tackle major projects during frequent Open Garden Days on Saturdays and our gates are always open, welcoming neighbors and friends to enjoy the harvest.
Named in honor of our school’s namesake, the garden features quotes from Langston Hughes amid the row crops and flower beds. Staff and students maintain our Dreamkeeper Garden at Langston Hughes, which started in 2008 before becoming an ESYNOLA garden, and now includes crops and resident goats, chickens, and a pot-bellied pig. In 2012, students and volunteers helped build the Dreamkeeper production garden, which is now yielding seasonal crops in abundance and LHA has been able to start a co-op produce box program, sending delicious school-grown produce home to families.
An ESYNOLA program at John Dibert Community School, launched in 2010, has evolved into our newest garden education program at Phillis Wheatley Community School's Treme campus in 2014. Students in kindergarten through 3rd grade learn about planting, life cycles, and how to harvest in the school's production and "gumbo" gardens.
ESYNOLA staff and volunteers planted the first three of several garden areas at Ashe – a color garden and a rain garden featuring Louisiana swamp vegetation at the front entrance to the Ashe building and a large culinary herb garden next to the school's cafeteria. In the fall of 2016 we opened our one-acre teaching and production garden at the rear of the school building, complete with outdoor classroom and greenhouse, which will source plant starts for the five-school network.
K-8 students at Green, Ashe, Langston Hughes, and Wheatley participate in regular garden education classes. Through hands-on gardening classes tied to life science lessons, students experience the joys and meaninful work of growing their own food right on their own school campuses. Family community events include Open Garden Days and many other volunteer opportunities to work in the garden.
ESYNOLA built a teaching kitchen at Green School in 2009 allowing ESYNOLA to develop a nutrition-based food education program. We opened a second teaching kitchen at Arthur Ashe in 2012 and now offer food-education programming (such as Family Food Nights, Iron Chef Competitions, and Market-to-Table events) at all five FirstLine Schools. Children learn to grow their own food, and to prepare it in healthy ways. Chef educators develop lesson plans centered on food preparation, and tie these lessons to the math, English language arts, science, and social studies that students are learning in their regular classrooms. We work closely with classroom teachers to align our work and complement academic instruction with hands-on, experiential learning in the kitchen.