Dispatch From New Orleans

Food Systems Response & Recovery in the wake of Hurricane Ida

Susan Lightfoot Schempf, Co-Director of the Wallace Center at Winrock International, reached out to SAFSF members last week in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida to share a snapshot of what she saw happening on the ground, as a New Orleans native and resident, and to encourage funders to channel resources through the many community-led efforts underway. SAFSF is grateful to Susan for taking the time from her own family’s recovery efforts to share this critical eye-witness information that most of us would otherwise not hear about. Below are excerpts of Susan’s dispatch from New Orleans.

Snapshot of the situation:

  • Much like we saw in the beginning of the Covid pandemic, food supply chains throughout the region have been completely disrupted, from farm to fork, with the added layer of production being impacted from the massive wind and rain. High tunnels, packing sheds, and other essential farm infrastructure on many farms has been demolished. Most farmers were planting out fall crops these past few weeks, so most all will have to be replanted. Fishing communities along the gulf and bayous have been devastated, with significant impact on the infrastructure necessary for fishing – boats, docks, equipment, etc.  
  • Schools, restaurants, and farmers markets are all closed, so farmers and fisher people throughout the region have lost most all market channels. With these kitchens closed due to power outages, business owners and volunteers have been hustling to recover and redistribute massive amounts of fresh and frozen inventory to communities in need.
  • At least 500,000 people in southeast Louisiana still do not have power and getting around is a serious challenge. Many people are unable to prepare meals for themselves and their families without power. While Disaster SNAP is being activated, physically getting to a grocery store or a food distribution site is extremely difficult.
  • All of these challenges are particularly acute for Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color who have long faced food apartheid here and are living on the frontlines of climate change in Louisiana.    

Three ways to help shore up the local food system:

  1. Market Umbrella, which operates the Crescent City Farmers Markets, is raising funds to provide immediate financial support to impacted producers in the region in the clean-up and recovery phase. All donations to their Crescent Fund will go directly to the farmers, fishers, ranchers, and food producers of the Crescent City Farmers Market community so that they can address their immediate needs and return to market as soon as possible.  They are aiming to get $500 checks out to producers this week, with a fundraising goal of $40k.
  2. As farms assess damage and markets try to recover, Sprout and VEGGI are supporting farmers and food producers through value chain coordination – connecting producers with purchasing opportunities, aligning distribution routes and lining up supply chains, and forging partnerships across the food system. As we’ve seen throughout Covid, this coordinating function is ESSENTIAL for restoring stability in the local food system. Through a cooperatively managed Local Food Purchasing Fund, Sprout and VEGGI will have working capital to purchase fresh product from local farmers and channel it to food access efforts in and around New Orleans. This purchasing power for local vegetables supports the food system and gets the healthiest food to families with no power at home or a fridge of spoiled food. It also allows them to provide fresh product for hot meals cooked by organizations like Culture Aid NOLA. They’re aiming to raise $25k this week.
  3. Culture Aid NOLA has corralled kitchen space, food donations from restaurants all over town from their thawing freezers, volunteer labor for food preparation, and trucks and drivers to bring freshly prepared meals to distribution points around the city of New Orleans. They are currently feeding 3,500 people a day with hot meals and working to bring those meals directly to residents. A one-time capital investment of $75,000 for the purchase of a large refrigerated truck would enable them to scale their operation, accept more fresh product, stabilize their ongoing fresh grocery distribution program, and enable access to cold chain infrastructure to local producers.

These are just three examples of important work happening in the LA food systems community right now. There are many other organizations and networks that are responding in different ways and looking for financial support, like Sankofa Community Development Corporation’s food pantry in the Lower 9th Ward community.

Please also support the amazing work in surrounding parishes and through mutual aid networks: 

United Houma Nation

House of Tulip

Atakapa Ishak Tribe

Pointe-Aux-Chien Indian Tribe

Grand Caillou/Dulac Band

Indigenous Hurricane Ida Recovery- Courtesy of Bvlbancha  Collective

Down the Bayou Mutual Aid Fund

RISE St. James

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief

Southern Solidarity

Imagine Water Works

Center For Sustainable Engagement and Development

Another Gulf is Possible