Photo provided by Green Light New Orleans -- Ella Monroe with her vegetable patch, where she grew cucumbers and summer squash.

Green Light New Orleans has made a name for itself with its aggressive campaign to provide free energy-efficient lightbulbs to New Orleanians.

But now, with more than 23,000 households served and more coming, it is focusing resources on a new frontier: Backyard vegetable gardens. Would-be gardeners can learn about planting fall crops at Green Light’s program at a “Yard to Table” workshop today and Oct. 2, co-sponsored with the AARP.

“The workshop is a way to introduce locals to the benefits of planting their own fall crops,” said Amanda Joseph, garden manager for Green Light New Orleans. “We’ll be talking about the nutritional benefits of mustard and collard greens, broccoli and lettuce, and showing people how to grow them from seed.”

Ella Monroe can vouch for the program.

“I am very excited about my own garden and very grateful,” said Monroe, whose first harvest included cucumbers and summer squash. “In these hard times, it always helps to get a little extra help to put good food on my plate.”

“Yard to Table” is a health initiative established by the AARP to encourage seniors to get physical activity via gardening safely and to be sure to get the best nutrition possible. When the national nonprofit was ready to launch its local initiative, it reached out to Green Light New Orleans after learning of the local nonprofit’s goal of establishing 20,000 backyard gardens in the next 10 years.

“I have really loved working with the women from AARP.

They have wonderful stories to tell about the city and their own experiences growing vegetables,” said Joseph, a Baltimore native who majored in environmental science in college and has lived in New Orleans off and on since 2006.

Every workshop participant will get to take home a packet of seeds for starting the four crops and a pamphlet from the AARP aimed at seniors about exercises they can do to avoid back strain. They will also get recipes for cooking what they grow.

But you don’t have to be an AARP member to attend: The workshops are open to the public.

Joseph believes that leafy crops are especially well-suited to the “Yard to Table” initiative because they can be harvested continuously.

“It isn’t like a carrot, where after you harvest it, you’re done,” she explained. “A family can harvest as many or as few of the leaves of the lettuce and greens that they need for one night’s meal and then do the same thing the next day.”

The backyard garden initiative began in 2011 but was revamped to adhere to a new model about 18 months ago when Joseph joined the Green Light staff.

The model relies on volunteer labor to build small garden plots (4 feet by 4 feet) at the homes of residents who request them. The size of the beginner plots is just right from a manageability perspective.

“There are no income restrictions on who can request a garden, but we do require that they either own their own home or have the permission of their landlord,” Joseph said. “We ask for a commitment to plant and grow edible plants only for five years and to track how much they harvest and how it impacts their grocery bills. We want to be able to measure the results.”

There’s a waiting list of people who want the gardens installed at their homes, but Green Light is working through the list as quickly as volunteers are available to perform the work. Volunteers are always needed, Joseph noted, and she encourages those who like to get their hands dirty to sign up to help.

“Volunteers get training from us. Then they come by our office to pick up materials before they head out to the resident’s home for installation.” Joseph said. “The resident will have had to identify a spot in their yard that gets at least six hours of sun and has a water source. There also needs to be a place in the yard where the volunteers can dig.

“The materials we use are like Lincoln Logs — about 6 inches high — so the volunteers need to be able to dig down another 6 inches to make room for the plants’ roots to grow.”

Once the plot has been dug, volunteers line it with landscape fabric to prevent soil content and the possibility of leaching harmful elements, then lock together the Greenland Gardeners composite sides before filling the plot with soil.

“Good soil is everything,” noted Joseph. “We use Black Kow because it is a great organic soil produced in the Gulf South, full of organic matter and nutrients needed to help plants grow. The soil retains moisture well, and it’s a great value: $5 per 50-pound bag.”

Green Light follows up with gardeners frequently during the first year, helping them address issues that may arise and guiding them through seasonal transitions in crops.

“We don’t leave them alone to figure things out,” said Joseph. “We want them to develop confidence.”


what: Yard to Table workshops

when and where: Saturday, Sept. 27, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., ReFresh Community Room, 300 N. Broad St.; Thursday, Oct. 2, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Algiers Regional Library, 3104 Holiday Drive

admission Free by calling (877) 926-8300 to reserve

contact (504) 485-2164,

R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @rstephaniebruno.