My bananas look pretty sad right now, and so do my night-blooming Jessamine plants. Porterweed and coleus join the group of freeze-burned ornamentals in my garden, thanks to last weekend’s sub-freezing temperatures.
But at the Hollygrove Market and Farm, winter vegetables are thriving.
“The cauliflower and beets, for instance, can grow in snow,” said Amber Dawn, one of two mentor farmers at the farm. “They are fine. It’s the tender ones — sunflowers, elephant ears, maybe lettuce and cilantro — that will either succumb to the cold or at least be singed by it.”
The Hollygrove Market and Farm appeared on the scene in 2007 after Guillot's Nursery — a longtime anchor in the neighborhood cradled by South Carrollton and Earhart — did not reopen after Hurricane Katrina.
“The Carrollton-Hollygrove Community Development Corporation made it a priority to address the issue of the ‘food desert’ in the neighborhood, and took out a lease from the Guillot family with the goal of ensuring that Hollygrove residents had access to locally grown, fresh produce,” said Paul Baricos, the interim general manager of the Hollygrove Market and Farm.
As a mentor farmer at Hollygrove, it’s Dawn's role to work with novice growers and volunteers to help them learn the basics, with the hope that they will pass on their knowledge to others and become urban farmers.
“They need to know what to grow, when to grow it, how to space it,” she said. “They need to get their hands dirty.”
In addition to cauliflower and beets, Dawn grows other winter vegetables including broccoli, rapini, mustard greens, snow peas, carrots, and snap beans.
“I’m in the process of planting another round of broccoli, another round of cilantro, and another round of mustards,” she said. “But the changeover to warm season plants starts in February, when the tomatoes go in, and peaks at the end of April and in early May.”
In addition to the beds tended by the mentor farmers and volunteers, Hollygrove leases out 15 plots for $15 a year to community members.
“Four or five of those are kept by neighborhood folks,” said Baricos.
Hollygrove Market and Farm has become synonymous with its most popular sales item — produce “boxes” filled to overflowing with fresh, seasonal farm products.
“We used to buy boxes from NOLA Box on Earhart but now our ‘boxes’ are paper bags,” Baricos said. “And because we know some folks have trouble leaving their homes, we deliver."
Only a small fraction of the herbs, fruit and vegetables that go into Hollygrove's popular “boxes” is grown at the site on Olive Street. The majority — about 90 percent — comes from urban and rural farms in the surrounding communities.
This symbiotic relationship among the market and farm, growers, and consumers has given rise to a slate of programs that aim to engage all three. Events range from a workshop on raising chickens (the farm has its own flock), to Sunday brunches featuring pop-ups and food trucks, to a cooking demonstration, garden tour, and lunch all in French.
“Sometimes, people aren’t familiar with something we have for sale," Baricos said. "So we provide recipes so they know what to do with it.”
Thanks to the GNO Gardening Newsletter published every month by the LSU AgCenter, growing winter vegetables doesn’t have to be a mystery. It all comes down to planting the right thing at the right time.
Here is what the AgCenter recommends planting this month to get your winter veggie garden growing strong:
• Beets (recommended: Ruby Queen)
• Broccoli (Diplomat)
• Cauliflower (Majestic )
• Cabbage (Blue Dynasty )
• Carrots (Purple Haze)
• Collards (Top Bunch)
• Mustard greens (Red Giant)
• Spinach (Melody)
• Turnip Greens (Alamo)
• Radishes (Champion)
• Shallots ( Matador)
• Onions (Mata Hari)
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