Hurricane Katrina not only devastated New Orleans, it also showed how vulnerable the city was to interruptions in the food supply chain. “It took two years after Katrina for Winn-Dixie supermarket to come back,” says Nguyen.
Five years later, the BP oil spill put many of the fishermen in New Orleans’ Vietnamese neighborhood of Village de L’Est out of work. “Two-thirds of the fishing vessels in New Orleans are Vietnamese-owned,” says Nguyen, and with waters fouled, the fishing industry tanked.
The Vietnamese community in New Orleans was into urban farming long before it became trendy – they were doing it’as early as 1975.
The solution? The Village de l’Est Green Growers Initiative (VEGGI). Run by Nguyen, the cooperative works with 12 to 13 growers to fill in gaps in income and provide vital food security.
The Vietnamese community in New Orleans was into urban farming long before it became trendy – they were doing it’as early as 1975. “Back then, they weren’t able to access food that was culturally relevant,” says Nguyen, “so folks started growing on land around their neighborhood.”
The secret sauce for VEGGI is that it helps local growers find buyers willing to pay more. “Rather than compete against each other,” says Nguyen, “we find higher paying markets in the city.” VEGGI currently sells produce to 15 restaurants in addition to running a CSA and selling directly at farmers markets and local grocery stores.
Next up? Finding larger land parcels and distributing to the free-spending crowd at places like Whole Foods. But’for VEGGI, the focus is more than growing fresh food – it’s revamping New Orleans’ food system. “It’s not just about food access,” says Nguyen. “It’s about economic impact – and economic justice.”