New Orleans Pilot Program Replants Vacant Lots with Sunflower Farms

sunflowers photo

photo: Vijay via flickr.

What do you do with areas of New Orleans that are filled with lots euphemistically described as blighted? If you're Pittsburgh-based GTECH (Growth Through Energy & Community Health) and Green Coast Enterprises, you see the opportunity to transform some of those lots into sunflower farms. Right now it's just a pilot project, Project Sprout, but it's really pretty cool:The five lots to be converted are just a few blocks from the Louisiana Superdome, at the intersection of Jackson Avenue and South Johnson Street. Once the lots, owned by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, are cleared of trash, sunflowers will be planted and a nominal quantity of biodiesel produced, 20-50 gallons.

Main Goal is Community Transformation
Which is just fine, as the primary aim of the project isn't so much to produce marketable quantities of fuel, the real goal of the project, Green Coast's Will Bradshaw told New Orleans City Business, is community transformation, to enable people to envision their neighborhoods in new ways,

Imagine a neighborhood in New Orleans where you’ve got 40 or 50 percent of the lots that are vacant, houses are blighted and the standard vision of the neighborhood is a place where people dump their trash. In 90 days you transform that to a place that’s growing flowers and creating biofuels, which is pretty powerful.

Improve Environment, Build Human Capital
In more polished terms, GTECH's website spells it out:
Our idea is to use ecosystem management as a fulcrum for leveraging overall (i.e. economic, social, and environmental) community health. The most tangible manifestation of our work is thriving alternative energy crops, now growing on marginalized lands in Pittsburgh such as vacant lots and a brownfield. The crops are strategic choices. Sunflowers and canola, for example, not only produce oil seeds for biodiesel, but also phytoremediate (or naturally absorb and extract) contaminates from soil. Our work provides landowners such as governmental agencies, private developers, or community groups with an opportunity to increase the value of their assets through green "place-holding" strategies. This ultimately improves environmental conditions, and builds human capital in communities.

All told there are some 65,000 blighted or empty lots in New Orleans. That's a lot of space for urban farms.

More: New Orleans City Business, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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