Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Greenleaf Farms / detours / lowernine.org

In the last few weeks since my first post I’ve been in four different states and a lot has happened. The first thing: there actually is a midnight train to Georgia, and I took it from Greensboro to Atlanta.

It was actually the 12:22 am train to Georgia, but “He’s leavin’ on that 12:22 am train to Georgia” doesn’t flow very well.

From Atlanta, I got a ride from my host, Greg, to his farm in Barnesville, about an hour south of the city. Greenleaf Farms isn’t certified organic, but it is certified naturally grown, and Greg is certified awesome at farming. The farm is small – about five acres – but he’s cleared and cultivated all of it completely on his own. When he bought the land no one had been on it for about 10 years, so I find that pretty impressive.

Here’s the farm early in the morning, before the fog has fully lifted.

I found it even more impressive once I started helping Greg do the work. Unlike Old Oak, Greenleaf is a proper farm – it produces enough for Greg to sell at multiple farmers’ markets and a CSA. So for one person, or even two of us, to keep the whole place growing is an almost impossible amount of work.

I helped with the heavy lifting – mainly shoveling compost onto new beds and then raking and evening them out. There was much more of a routine than at Old Oak, and most days we were outside working by 6 am and inside by noon, then back out again for a few hours in the afternoon. The rest of the time we stayed inside to avoid the heat, watched the U.S. women’s soccer team almost win the World Cup, and enjoyed delicious meals prepared by Greg’s wife, Maeda. A tour of the farm:

Here is the house, which was built in 1825. John Quincy Adams was president.

Here is half the garden, with the barn and hoop house, which were damaged by a tornado in April. A tornado!

Here is the other half of the garden, with the old milking house. Greenleaf used to be a dairy farm.

I wish I could tell you what all these are. Greg grows some pretty obscure crops. I see carrots…

Hey, a dog! This is Greg and Maeda’s “puggle-box” (a cross between a puggle, which is a pug and a beagle, and a boxer). His name is Blue. He is awesome.

Here is what’s left of Greg’s hoop house. It looks like someone stepped on it. Tornadoes are scary.

This is Greg, tilling a new bed. Horray for rototillers!

One of the downsides of the way I’m moving across the country, farming in different places for only a week or two at a time, is that I don’t get to see anything I do come to fruition – literally. If I plant something, I’m lucky if it sprouts before I’m on to the next place. On the other hand, on a farm everything is happening at once; some crops are just sprouting, others are just being planted, and others are ready to harvest. At the end of my week at Greenleaf, we harvested a bunch of radishes, kohlrabi (one of Greg’s obscure crops), green beans, cherry tomatoes, Swiss chard, and herbs, then sold them at a farmers’ market in Atlanta.

Three different types of eggplant!

Washing radishes and herbs.

Here are some kohlrabi, being bunched. They taste kind of like water chestnuts.

Here is our stand at the farmers’ market. From the top: cinnamon basil, green beans, Swiss chard, sun gold and rainbow cherry tomatoes, rosemary, figs, lime basil (totally wild, you should try it), Mexican thyme, and eggplants. We sold out of everything.

I left Georgia for a detour – all the way back up the east coast to Lake Newfound in New Hampshire, where I met up with a couple of friends and basically just relaxed for about a week. The lake is one of my favorite places in the world.

We grew moustaches.

Rob’s was the best.

Sam just looked creepy.

We also climbed a mountain.

Oh yeah, the lake was there too.

After the All Male Retreat, I flew to New Orleans to attend Tales of the Cocktail, which is kind of like a conference or festival for bartenders, booze industry types, and cocktail nerds like myself. There are a bunch of seminars, competitions, an award ceremony, and other events. But really, it’s just a big party.

While I was at Tales, I stayed at an apartment in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans that I’d found through the website AirBnB. Really highly recommend that site. This is my block.

Here are some houses in the Tremé.

Here is a house in the Marigny.

Free St. Germain cocktails! Outside the Hotel Monteleone, where Tales took place.

I went to a seminar on barrel-aged cocktails, which is more or less what it sounds like – large batches of a single cocktail, like a Manhattan, aged in old oak barrels. Each spot on the placemat was for a sample of a different drink, both aged and unaged. If you ever have a chance to try a barrel-aged cocktail, do it.

I was lucky enough to come into a free ticket to the midnight Bartenders’ Breakfast, which is kind of like the final party of the festival. Every year, the bartenders at Tales choose a drink they hate (or hate making) and declare it dead, then give it a New Orleans jazz funeral through the city that ends with a giant party. This year the dearly departed was the Long Island Iced Tea.

Here is an eerie photo of an ice luge in the shape of a boat.

Here is the Kinfolk Brass Band. They led the funeral, which transformed into a second line parade by the time it reached the party.

Here is Ron Jeremy, for some reason. It doesn’t look like it, but he let me take this photo of him.

Here is me with a gigantic shaker. Ron Jeremy took this photo. Just kidding. But seriously.

So that was Tales of the Cocktail. After two nights in the Tremé, I moved to a house in the Marigny, which is where a lot of the music happens. This was about the time that I started to realize that I’m in love with New Orleans. It’s hard to explain, but at some point on my third night in the city I found myself planning on moving there and trying to figure out how I would do it. Sometimes you just feel a connection to a place, I guess.

Here is To Be Continued Brass Band at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street. This was taken right about the time I had my epiphany.

You’re probably wondering what happened to the whole farming thing! After my night in the Marigny, I packed up and made my way through the rain (perpetual rain) to the lower ninth ward. A rebuild organization there, lowernine.org, has planted a small urban farm and community garden on a couple of empty lots. I signed up with them as a WWOOFer and spent about a week and a half living in their volunteer house and trying to reclaim their veggie gardens from the weeds that had taken hold during the weeks and weeks of rain New Orleans was having. We also harvested watermelon, okra, cucumbers, mustard greens, squash, and basil; pruned; cleaned up and replanted beds; and put down mulch.

When I wasn’t farming, I was helping out with a project to survey the entire lower ninth ward and assess how much progress is or isn’t being made. They call it blight mapping, and it’s a tedious process – essentially you just go lot by lot, taking photos of what’s there and recording what condition the neighborhood is in.

Here is the volunteer house at lowernine.org. For some reason everyone in there was foreign – we were overrun with French and Belgian volunteers.

Here is my crowded room, which I shared with two South Koreans, a Swede, and a Brit. I was one of two Americans in the house.

Here is the overgrown half of the farm, which sits on the corner of North Galvez and Lamanche streets in the heart of the lower ninth.

Here is a ton of okra. I guess it does well in the rain, and plus we’d mulched the rows so it was harder for weeds to come up.

Here is the back of the farm, with the unfinished hoop house and the compost bins.

Here is our shed, and that’s my friend and fellow WWOOFer Andrew pretending to work. The concrete slab the shed is built on is all that’s left of the houses that used to stand there.

Here is a map of the farm, on the wall of the shed. Very organized!

Nature is reclaiming the ninth ward. Since I was one of the only Americans, I was also one of the only volunteers who felt comfortable driving around, and so I got to take a lot of photos of the area. I’m not trying to proselytize, but I do want to show you what the neighborhood looks like six years after Katrina. There are a lot of debates about what should be done with much of the abandoned and still destroyed places in New Orleans, and there’s no way to have that debate without seeing what it looks like. It was endlessly fascinating to look around what used to be a neighborhood and feel like I was back in the middle of North Carolina farmland. Sometimes I heard a rooster and forgot I was in the middle of a city. Feral animals run amok.

Here is a typical block. If there are houses, they can be anywhere on the spectrum: half-destroyed, abandoned, gutted, rebuilt, or sometimes brand new. But there is rarely a block with more than five or six houses on it.

This looks almost like an overgrown public park, but it’s not. There are some intersections where every corner looks like this, and you can’t even see a house.

A common sight in neighborhoods with lots of abandoned buildings is the marking seen here. Each quadrant of the X stands for something: on top, the date the house was visited by a rescue team; on the right, the codename or designation of the team; on the left, a coded indication of any animals or hazards found in the house; and on the bottom, the number of bodies, if any, found inside.

On one of my last days driving around, I found a house with the number one in the bottom quadrant.

I also found this gas station. The prices haven’t been changed since August 2005.

On a lighter note, there are some blocks where some really cool, modern houses are being built. Some people object to this, others welcome it.

People around here don’t like FEMA very much. They’re in the doghouse – get it?

Another common sight – handmade road signs to replace those washed away by the storm.

Almost forgot: one of the things I got to work on at lowernine was a video for a Kickstarter campaign benefiting the farm. For those who aren’t familiar, Kickstarter is a site that allows people working on creative projects to raise money in order to get them off the ground. Each project has an introductory video on their site, and we had about two days to shoot footage and interviews and then edit ours together. It has a couple of awkward cutaways and a few jumpy edits, but I think it turned out well. The link will be posted in the sidebar – please consider contributing!

I left New Orleans for another detour, to go to Lollapalooza in Chicago, but that will have to wait until my next post. Right now I’m in Austin, and tomorrow I’ll be on a chicken farm about an hour east of here. A timelier update will follow.

As always, thanks for reading! Questions and comments are welcome and appreciated.


  1. All these farms you've been to and we were the only one without a cool dog of some sort. We need a purpy.

  2. Thanks for posting, Peter - this is great! Keep in touch and good luck on your journeys! New Orleans welcomes you back any time...

    Laura Paul
    6018 El Dorado Street
    New Orleans, LA