Fighting Poverty with Passion
The New Orleans Fruit Tree Project has been interested in building compost stalls on six of our lots (eventual orchards) since the end of last summer, but the project never got off the ground. I blame myself for not getting the project realized sooner, but at the time we were still trying to maintain the lots until winter set in and then came harvest season.
It wasn’t until people started talking about what they were going to do for the MLK Service Day in January that I realized building compost stalls would be a perfect service day event. Of course, I still needed to find pallets, which would become our compost stalls and we also needed funding for materials like: nails, staples, and weed block among other later unforeseen expenditures.
At first, I wasn’t sure we could find enough pallets, but looking on Craigslist.org (the free section) I quickly found the answer. We were able to find plenty of pallets across the Mississippi in Algiers. Of course, many of them were a bit weathered and some pallets actually crumbled in our hands just by moving them, but David, my intern and I managed to sift through the deteriorating piles to find enough hardy pallets for our project. We deciding to build only four of the six compost stalls, primarily because two lots were next to occupied residential houses and we were worried it may create some problems with free dumping. So, we needed enough pallets for four lots with seven pallets per lot for a total of twenty-eight pallets, plus three pallets for the back yard office house, which totaled thirty-one pallets.
We stuffed seven pallets in the NOFTP van making four trips across the river to the four designated lots in the upper ninth ward a week before the event. I already had three pallets at the office site, so all we needed now was the funds for the materials to put the pallets together. Fortunately for the NOFTP, the Tulane Center for Public Service department generously provided us with the funds needed.
I’ve been working with the New Orleans Fruit Tree Project since March of 2013. This experience has giving me plenty of opportunities to coordinate volunteer group projects. Most of the volunteer groups are college students, some groups from outside the state and some from within the state. Its been a few months since I coordinated a volunteer group and I always worry I won’t have enough work for the volunteers to do, but we had six donated fruit trees that needed to be planted. If we had the time, I was also going to have the volunteers plant the fruit trees on the same site we recently lost our papaya trees to the recent cold weather in New Orleans.
I also have to mention that no matter how much you organize, how meticulous you are on the project’s details there will always be a few hitches along the way, and this service day was no different. After coordinating volunteer groups in the past I’ve learned sometimes you just have to go with the flow when things don’t go as planned.
I bought a staple gun for the project so we could staple weed block material to the inside of each stall. Weed block is used as a barrier on the walls and on the ground to keep the compost contained and from sprouting growth. We ended up with the wrong staples for the staple gun. We also got some nails that didn’t work as well as we had hoped, and I had two of our fruit trees walk away from our gated back yard the night before the event, but because we didn’t spend all the money allotted by CPS we were able to buy three new citrus plants, which we ended up planting. Because of the little setbacks with the compost stalls we were unable to build all four compost stalls. Instead, only three compost stalls were somewhat completed, and all without the weed block. We do have more volunteer groups coming in March, so I’m sure we will finish them by then.
I still believe, even with the few setbacks we had on our project it still turned into a successful service event. We may not have completed everything we set out to do, but we’re farther down the road with the compost stalls than we were before the event. I’d like to thank the Tulane Center for Public Service department for the monetary and moral support. I’d like to thank our very own NOFTP intern, David Hensley, and fellow Americorps/VISTA volunteer Maggie Birkel for all their hard work and supervisory support they gave, and I’d like to give a big, big thank you to the amazing group of university student volunteers, who were eager to plant fruit trees and very patient with the NOFTP on building compost stalls. It was awesome to see so many people involved in this service day event.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” and “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” Martin Luther King