Urban Farms, Community Gardens and Roasted Eggplant Dip
Nine years ago, in those early post-Katrina days when much of New Orleans sat submerged under flood waters, dire predictions began popping up in media outlets throughout the country. The soil will be dangerously contaminated for at least 10 years, they said, maybe a generation.
Today, as I travel around the city, meeting people and acquainting myself with the new New Orleans, I find the city is absolutely filled with urban farms, community gardens and edible schoolyards.
This morning I went to Parkway Partners, a non-profit that helps to establish community gardens and green spaces throughout the city. Parkway Partners holds a monthly educational series, open to all. Luckily for me, they also hand out free seeds. This morning’s speaker, Kiki Fontenot, of the LSU AgCenter, gave all kinds of practical advice on backyard and schoolyard gardens, and patiently answered questions – even the most basic from this terrible gardener. LSU Ag Center operates throughout the state of Louisiana, and I heard about them, and started meeting people who worked with them almost as soon as I arrived here. They offer soil testing, for both nutrient content (and suggest how to amend it), and for heavy metals for a very small fee to any Louisianan who sends in samples of their soil. I asked Kiki if the soil here was particularly contaminated as a result of Katrina. Not really, she said. The main concern is lead from paint which chips off the old houses. The biggest concern in soil, she added, is contamination running off from highways, from leaded gasoline and other toxins – but that’s an urban problem, not specifically unique to New Orleans. The Ag Center offer master gardener courses, too – okay, which I am considering, since as I mentioned above, I am a terrible gardener.
And a couple of months back, when I had only been here a few weeks, I volunteered for a morning of weeding, seeding and harvesting at Hollygrove Farms, one of the more visible community gardens, which also operates a CSA and market in a less than well served neighborhood of uptown New Orleans. I dripped sweat under a broiling sun, then came home that afternoon, gobbled down lunch, soaked in the tub while sipping on a glass of wine, and climbed into bed for an afternoon nap. As my reward for the grueling morning – well, besides a little more knowledge and experience which will presumably help me in my own garden pursuits – I was sent home with a bit eggplant, a bunch of basil and some long beans.
Oh, and this coming week, I begin a volunteer stint at a local edible schoolyard. I know, it’s a whole new world for me – so please come back and check in on how my garden knowledge is growing.
Roasted Eggplant Dip
- 2 small to medium roasted eggplants
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced and mashed to a paste with kosher salt
- 1/2 roasted red pepper, diced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon ( or more to taste)
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- Chiffonade of 3 large leaves basil
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Lightly char the eggplant skin on an open flame, then place the eggplant on a baking sheet in the oven and cook until it is completely soft.
- Scoop the eggplant flesh from the skin, place it in the bowl of a food processor and pulse . I like to leave a bit of texture.
- Place the pulsed eggplant in a bowl and stir in the other ingredients. Taste, and adjust the seasonings to your liking. If you happen to have a bit of the gunk from a jar of Preserved Lemons, a bit of that would be great stirred into the dip. Serve with crackers or pita.
Yield: @ 1 1/2 cups