Fighting Poverty with Passion
August in New Orleans is dreadfully humid and I sweat buckets every time I’m out in the field taking care of our lots. The New Orleans Fruit Tree Project lots will eventually become fruit orchards, but for now, they’re just vacant lots that I’ve been maintaining. Well, that is, mowing the lawn. Of course, it’s direct service, which isn’t in my job description as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, but I don’t think any VISTA can completely get away from having to do some direct service while in AmeriCorps. I’ve been doing my share, because we’re a small organization, it’s summer and volunteers are hard to find for this kind of work.
The strange thing about working out in the field is I don’t really mind it. I pretty much set my own schedule. I setup what I’m going to do for the day or week, and I like that aspect of the job, but there are times when I sure could use an extra pair of hands and I’m working on hiring some interns for the fall semester for that very reason.
My Exec. Director and I meet once a week to talk about the lots, grants, harvesting requests, tree registrations, intern possibilities, upcoming volunteer and outreach events. In the last few weeks we’ve had two outreach events. One at the Whole Foods on Magazine St. and the other at the New Orleans Food Co-op in the New Orleans Healing Center. These are small outreach events compared to others we’ve participated in the past, like Earth Day and Veggie Fest, but these events are still very important to us. It gets the word out about who the NOFTP is and what we do. What we do is harvest fruit trees in neighborhoods in New Orleans with the majority of the fruit we harvest going to the Second Harvest Food Bank but this is mostly citrus fruit, and the citrus season happens during the winter months.
Since I only coordinated the tail end of the last citrus season. I’m told that this citrus season should be in full swing at the end of Oct. beginning of November. The summer season is quite different. We’ve had virtually no summer fruit harvests, but instead the NOFTP has been working on grants and taking care of the 9 vacant lots and our office space.
Surprisingly, just a week and a half ago, a local produce business, which sells its vegetables to local restaurants, offered to donate 20 papaya trees to the NOFTP. It was decided that the lot at 1835 Montegut would be our fruit orchard. That’s because this lot is in close proximity to the papaya plants we hoped to transplant. Of course we needed to do a lot of prep work before we could plant the papayas. The grass needed cutting, we needed to stake out 20 spots about 10 ft apart to give the papaya trees plenty of room to grow, and I needed to find some volunteers for this papaya planting event.
We weren’t even sure we’d be able to plant the papaya trees once we dug the holes. It had to do with the weather. We needed to have an overcast day and quickly transplant the papaya trees as soon as we could so they wouldn’t get root shock. If we took too long to plant them their leaves would instantly wilt and the plant would never recover from the transplanting.
Well, I can tell you I was pretty worried about the transplanting, but I was also worried about finding enough volunteers to help dig twenty holes on a Saturday morning. It isn’t what I’d prefer to do on a hot Saturday morning, but three AmeriCorps VISTAs stepped forward: Jack Duffy, Jack Styczynski and Tom Zolot. They made this planting event a huge success. Thanks guys!
We also had a local couple, Eric and Lucy volunteer and my Exec. Director, Megan Nuismer. Everyone did amazingly. The holes were dug in record time and once we got the peat moss and the water going we had those papaya plants transplanted before they new what happened. It was an overcast day like we hoped, but it was hard work. We’re not sure all the papayas plants will survive, even after being so careful about the planting of our twenty new papaya trees. I believe it was a very successful planting of the New Orleans Fruit Tree’s first fruit orchard in the middle of a New Orleans August.
New Orleans Fruit Tree Project