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COVID-19: Director of Loyola’s Center for Environmental Law Promotes ‘Farm to Families Project’ in NOLA

By Loyola University on Wed, 04/08/2020 - 15:11

Coalition assembles low-cost fresh food bags and delivers them door-to-door to residents in low-access, low-income neighborhoods under stay-at-home orders.

In 2010, Marianne Cufone founded the Recirculating Farms Coalition in New Orleans, with the aim of growing fresh food through innovative urban farming to expand accessibility of affordable, healthy food. Now, as the city battles COVID-19, she is working cooperatively with other farmers, farmers’ markets, a food kitchen, advocacy organizations and delivery services to assemble low-cost fresh food bags and deliver them door-to-door to residents in low-access, low-income neighborhoods under stay-at-home orders.

“Because many people are staying home, our garden bags are now being delivered directly to where people stay,  to minimize contact with others. It’s challenging,” said Cufone, now director of Loyola’s Center for Environmental Law. “We’re bringing people affordable fresh food when they need it the most.”

The Recirculating Farms Coalition helps to create and cultivate urban farming using environmentally sustainable methods, such as aquaponics - raising plants and fish together - and using solar power. The organization has built various urban gardens through Growing Local NOLA, its farm program,  particularly in Central City, where there is both need and demand. For the last several years, the Coalition has collected weekly fresh food from local farms and farmers’ markets, like the Refresh Market on Broad and the Crescent City Farmers Market, and repackaged them at Liberty’s Kitchen to create fresh food bags that are delivered through Top Box Foods Louisiana to various drop-off points throughout the city, where residents then pick them up.

The fresh food bags are offered at $15, and include an assortment of vegetables, fruit, herbs and a “lagniappe” item - a little something extra - like jam, pickles, tea or other fun surprises.  The bags sell out quickly each week, and the program accepts SNAP benefits.

“We have been doing this for years, but now it’s even more important. Our garden bags are specifically meant to feed families at an affordable price point,” Cufone said.

Once community spread of COVID-19 was evident in New Orleans and the mayor and governor issued official stay-at-home orders, local food needs increased, at the same time that area farmers saw their business pipelines change.
 
The various organizations that make up the Growing Local Collaborative – Recirculating Farms Coalition, Top Box Foods Louisiana, SPROUT NOLA, New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee, and Liberty’s Kitchen – in partnership with Market Umbrella and the Crescent City Farmers Market for this program, joined forces and began ramping up efforts to keep New Orleans residents fed and healthy by organizing food distribution from farms to families and mapping important resources.
 
The organizations, which typically work together on various other programs, now are focused on a common goal that both helps feed area residents and support local farmers and other small-scale food vendors.

Labor demands are intense – collaborative members receive the food from farmers and vendors at Liberty’s Kitchen, unpack and repack it, then put it on a truck for individual home delivery.

Staff from participating organizations are taking shifts to pack a few boxes in the cooler in safe conditions, Cufone said. The need for financial support is growing.

“Because the effort is so much more labor-intensive than usual, we need more trucks and more people to deliver,” Cufone said, adding that food is also more costly than usual.  “It’s quite an operation, but we’re keeping the boxes at $15 and do individual deliveries throughout the city.”

Donors, including the American Heart Association of New Orleans and The Humana Foundation, have stepped up to help with grants to scale up operations and pay farmers for food and deliveries, as the NOLA Food Policy Advisory Committee, its members, and others work for changes to rules surrounding SNAP and other benefits, so that residents can afford to purchase more and fresh food.

“It’s impressive. We are doing this all together – so that people get the fresh food they need to be healthy, and support the growers,” Cufone said.

To help, contact:

Recirculating Farms Coalition, Top Box Foods Louisiana, SPROUT NOLA, New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee, Liberty’s Kitchen - in partnership with Market Umbrella and the Crescent City Farmers Market