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NOLA contenders

New Orleans steps up its local-food game

Little Sparrow Farm was born on a long-vacant lot in Mid-City New Orleans, surrounded by the area’s traditional shotgun houses. (Photo by eustatic.)

The Feeding the City series is profiling several cities with thriving urban-agriculture and alt-food scenes.

In the land of gumbo and beignets and crawfish and rabbit-n-dumplings, of Haitians and French and Anglos and Africans, life moves at a slower pace, with more color and spice than most of America. There's time for food and music, and for parties to celebrate both.

New Orleanians have always taken pride in all things local, but since Katrina and now the oil spill creeping in from that blessed and cursed Gulf of Mexico, that pride has swelled immeasurably from Gulf shrimp to Ninth Ward greens to edible schoolyards.

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Asphalt-y tours

Urban farms around America are breaking through concrete and hitting sustainable paydirt [SLIDESHOW]

From mid-May through July, Grist readers followed along as a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and farmer hit the highway to visit a couple dozen urban farms across America. The Breaking Through Concrete team are back to sum up their trip and share some of Michael Hanson's most indelible images from it for our Feeding the City series. Months before we actually left Seattle in our grease-powered short bus, Edwin Marty, cofounder of Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, Ala., and I, a Seattle-based writer, had proposed a book idea. We wanted to tell the stories of the American urban farm -- …

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So much better than a golf course

Prairie Crossing in Illinois: The ‘urban’ farm of the future?

Prairie crossing farmMatt and Peg Sheaffer run Sandhill Organics in Prairie Crossing.(Michael Hanson)

For the final stop on the Breaking Through Concrete tour, we're gettin' all peri-urban on y'all.

It takes almost an hour to drive from downtown Chicago north on I-94 to the town of Grayslake, Ill., home of the Prairie Crossing residential development -- "A Conservation Community" -- and its core farm, Sandhill Organics. Though billboards, office "parks," and standard Interstate culture dot the highway, the tall, mixed prairie grasses native to these Great Lake Plains become increasingly expansive.

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Tough rows to hoe

Chicagoans get new roots and second chances from Growing Home farm

January 2011 update: Many of the photos have been removed from this series so they can be published in a Breaking Through Concrete book, forthcoming this year from UC Press. The real estate market dealt Melvin Price a double whammy. The 45-year-old builder and carpenter had been making a living in Chicago for years before he bought a house in the New City neighborhood of Chicago. It had had a fire, so he got it for $4,000, put in about $15,000 worth of repairs, and hoped to sell or rent it. An appraiser quoted the new value at $145,000. He …

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Know vacancies

Farming in Detroit: Schools of chard knocks

Boy in Detroit farm(Photos ©Michael Hanson)

Avram Rodgers, 6, says he and I are secret agents. He takes my hand and pulls me to the rabbit pens in the back of a fenced-in, grassy area at the Catherine Ferguson Academy farm in Detroit. A handful of ducks waddle in a little pool in the center of the enclosure. Goats chew grass in their separate pen 30 feet away, and a group of young women students build a small greenhouse 50 feet away.

Avram points out an eviscerated rabbit in the thick grass and informs me that we must find its killer. The young bunny likely escaped its cage, and my hunch is hawk or raccoon. Avram is less certain. But we investigate the crime scene for only another 30 seconds until Avram’s imagination takes a turn, and we veer out of the duck and rabbit area and toward the greenhouse.

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Buzzworthy

Philly’s Greensgrow farm: An unconventional hybrid that works

Beekeeper on roofMary Seton Corboy sweating in her bee suit on the living roof of the Greensgrow farm’s storage trailer.(Photos ©Michael Hanson)

It’s sunny and 94 degrees, and the pavement's steaming after a thunderstorm rolled sideways through north Philly. Mary Seton Corboy wears a full-body, white bee suit. She stands atop a small trailer’s grassy roof on a vacant city lot. Smoke puffs from the antique-looking box in her hand, and the bees calm down.

"We put these up here originally just for security," she says. "Figured no one would bother the equipment with a bunch of bees around."

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Slip me a roofie

Brooklyn’s Eagle Street is poster child for urban farming

January 2011 update: Many of the photos have been removed from this series so they can be published in a Breaking Through Concrete book, forthcoming this year from UC Press. Karen Turner, 25, wants to farm 100 acres in Texas. Her family has lived on 10 acres in San Antonio since she was a child. She plans to start there with chickens, fruit trees, and vegetables, and eventually have a dairy farm. Karen Turner, a farm apprentice, wants to return to Texas to farm full-time.But today she's in Brooklyn, NY, and she just carried a five-gallon bucket of used coffee …

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Utilitarianopia

DC’s Common Good City Farm: ‘Museum farm’ or real deal?

Neighbors used to avoid this area in the LeDroit Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, the site of an abandoned school, before Common Good City Farm grew there.(Photos ©Michael Hanson) "You got any more arugula?" A middle-aged man has just walked up to the street side of the chain-link fence. He peers through the gaps in the rusted metal and looks into the Common Good City Farm, where Murray Schmechel, 76, and Troy Coleman, 47, are laying irrigation tubing down rows of winter squash and hot peppers. "I don’t have any right now, but come on in and work for a …

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Black belt agriculture

Keeping up with Jones Valley Urban Farm

January 2011 update: Many of the photos have been removed from this series so they can be published in a Breaking Through Concrete book, forthcoming this year from UC Press. In fall 2001, Edwin Marty and Page Allison drove across the country, back home, to start a farm. That might be when the Breaking Through Concrete idea began. Edwin and Page had been living on the West Coast, farming in Baja, Mexico, and instructing youth at Washington’s Pacific Crest Outward Bound School. The young 30-somethings belonged on the West Coast, surfing and teaching among the burgeoning, youthful tribe of educated, …

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Pho sure

Vietnamese gardeners in New Orleans offer much food for thought

January 2011 update: Many of the photos have been removed from this series so they can be published in a Breaking Through Concrete book, forthcoming this year from UC Press. East New Orleans is lush and crumbling. Sometimes it feels like the built environment -- the convenience stores, sugar factories, distant oil refineries, houses, brick apartments, parking-lot pavement -- is no different than the vegetation: all bloom and decay, the life cycle spinning in time lapse. Between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne, a lagoon inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, and about 10 miles east, Chef Menteur Highway runs for …

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