Only in New Orleans: Garden party raises funds for school program

In the middle of the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans, behind the Carrollton Station post office and across from a well-used youth baseball complex, is a lush scrap of Eden called Hollygrove Market & Farm.

Hollygrove is an urban farm and community garden, at 8301 Olive St., that also serves as a market for locally raised produce, dairy products and meats. I enjoy the bustle at Hollygrove on a Saturday morning, when shoppers stream in for the boxes filled with $25 worth of that week’s bounty. Last week, the cardboard cornucopia included blueberries, yellow squash and carrots, red potatoes, cabbage, zucchini and onions.

Hollygrove sells about 560 of the boxes a week, operations director Bill Pastellak said. “We’ll probably get up to 650 a week once June starts, with the Eat Local Challenge and all the great local produce,” he said. Eat Local is a campaign to encourage people to cook their meals from foods raised within 200 miles.

School groups and families have long enjoyed tours of Hollygrove, where kids can get a glimpse of what food looks like before it’s shrink-wrapped and stacked in chilled supermarket coolers. But now the children’s programs are being restructured to supplement school lessons, Pastellak said.

Gardener Amber Parker started a pilot program in March with Lafayette Charter School, he said. “We are wrapping it up this week or next week, doing a four-week module for all of the first-graders,” Pastellak said.

Learning about the cycle of life and touching and tasting as they go, groups of children can stroll past bushy stands of vegetable plants and end up in a corner of the farm where hens peck for worms in the compost pile and lay eggs in a cozy coop.

In the past, that might have been the high point of a visit. But Parker recently adopted two rabbits from the LASPCA, who have stolen the spotlight with kids’ groups.

“We got them for the compost, partly,” Pastellak said, “because rabbits make great compost. But also because kids love bunnies.”

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Hollygrove is holding a fundraiser to support the educational programming, offering seasonal dishes prepared by chefs from more than 20 local restaurants. Plans are to use the proceeds to develop a summer curriculum and pay the coordinator.

The “Party in the Garden” fundraiser features the Honey Island Swamp Band Trio with Alvin Youngblood Hart. Also on site will be local mixologists, crafting cocktails using locally distilled spirits and seasonal fruits and herbs.

Tickets are $40 and everything is included, best of all the sights and scents of the garden.

Go to hollygrovemarket.com or call (504) 483-7037.

Annette Sisco is New Orleans community news editor. She can be reached at asisco@theadvocate.com or at (504) 432-9257.