Category Archives: Updates

November is the month of Thanksgiving. As a YAV, I have so many things for which to be thankful.

My Home Life. I grew up in a neighborhood where it’s safe to walk along the street at night. There was always had food on the table. Good food. I got to go to Chuck E Cheese for spring break in elementary school. New Disney movie just came out? You bet I got to see it. I never had to use public transit as a child; then getting a car once I had my driver’s license. I had a loving church family that led me on mission trips all over the US. I had a great public education, attending some of the best public schools in Kentucky. I am so blessed and thankful for all of my childhood.

 

My Friends. There are some people in my life that are always there for me. I can call them and say, “I’ve had a bad day. Can you talk?” They walk away from what they’re doing and listen. I have friends who are willing to pick me up from the airport, cook food for me, sit and watch Titanic when my knee gives out on me again, make corny videos with me, learn new things with me, just sit and be, call me out when I’ve done something wrong, sing songs at the top of their lungs, watch tv shows, and make my life so fulfilling. It’s these people that make my life so joyous now and I’m thankful.

 

My Parents.  Cindi and Greg Kupar are the best parents I’ve ever had (yes they’re the only parents I’ve ever had). They are always taking care of me when I’m in trouble, hurt, or sick, but also insuring I grow up to be the best person I can be, challenging me to do new things. They taught me so many life skills that I utilize today, instilled (what I think to be) good morals, and never left me to fend for myself. If I need anything, they’re there to help.

 

My Faith Community. Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church is my home. Nothing compares. There are people who supported me through my childhood, college, and now in my years in of service. I’m so blessed to have a group of people who are there for me. It really means a lot. I’m so thankful.

 

There are so many things in this life to be thankful for. I’m thankful I can take a hot shower. I’m thankful I can have hot coffee in the morning. I’m thankful to be able to eat Raising Cane’s. I’m thankful for my guitar. I’m thankful to have a bed to sleep in every night. I’m thankful for college basketball. I’m thankful for jackets. I’m thankful for sunglasses. I’m thankful for the internet. I’m thankful for cheese. I’m thankful for chocolate, alarm clocks, the sun, cars, my housemates, sweatpants, and birthdays.

 

I’m most thankful to be put on this earth in a time and place where I’m free to explore my faith, without war, without famine, without extreme grief. I’m thankful I can glorify God in my actions, daily life, and hopefully the rest of my life.

 

Thank you thank you thank you.

 

-John

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Community Work Day, Giving Color to a Food Space

So we had our first official community work day, and I’d consider it a good success. There were several tasks we completed including painting veggie signs for the beds, started painting some of the beds themselves (goal is to paint all 56, some are already painted), and transplanted the first round of Cole crop cabbage and broccoli. I set up a few work areas with the wooden signs, brushes, and a crate full of different colors, and allowed the creative juices to flow. While most of the group was making signs I planted the some 60 cloves of ginormous elephant garlic in every center 3 brick holes of the outer ends. This in theory will create a wall of garlic when looking into the garden from the street.  I’ll try to get a picture to illustrate this. I was a little surprised no one was interested in planting the garlic, but I could sense this to be more of an artistic bunch, which was a wonderful resource to have.     The minor disappointing reality of course, but this being the main challenge of the garden as a whole; not many new faces showed up. But on the brighter note, three kids from the neighborhood did come and really seemed to enjoy embracing their painter’s spirit. Along with them one of my bosses Megan, who is on the Johnson Garden committee, my host family Ben and Ellen, and a few of my housemate John, Hannah, and Katherine,(the others were volunteering at a local churches pumpkin patch sale that really needed help manning the stand, of which I joined later in the evening). So there were more bodies in the garden then I had ever seen at this point… which is a step in the right direction.garden 1garden 7

   

   So as I previously mentioned there are 56 raised beds in this lot… 56 of them! They are not all the same length but they are the same width. And there are a number of the beds that are taken up; three that are rented by members of the community, four that have been dedicated to butterflies and other pollinators so belong to flowers, and four that will be maintained by the YAV house this year.  Which makes for 45 beds open for planting. A large part of the work right now of course is getting the rest of the beds filled with either roots crops or cool season transplants. But there is strategic planning that I have attempted to follow that would allow for a continuous harvest through the next 4 months. This is one of the more challenging parts of growing produce for me, and I often times get really overwhelmed at how to prepared and attach a garden plan. I’ve spent a significant amount of time this past month mapping out what could go where and what kind of split planting schedule each crop could be on that allows the harvest to be extended. Plus, it’s important to plan for quick and slow growing crops. I have a 3’x5′ table space in the Parkway Partners green house, that is completely filled currently with Cole crops, onions, and herbs. My germination rates have been pretty successful, but the key is having confidence and determination to not fall off the schedule when things don’t germinate, a struggle for me at times. A big goal of mine is to be able to offer a diverse harvest, but maintaining a heavy planting of the particular crops that due well in this climate and seem to have a fan following in this neighborhood. Even with 45 beds available, stretching the diversity of plants ends up reduces the amount of space for each crop, so it was a struggle choosing how much to give to whom; more broccoli or more cabbage? More collards, or more mustard greens?…. So I often throw the question out to people I meet day to day, “What vegetables do you enjoy?” And similar to so many communities across this country, there is a deep culture context in the garden that still lives in this neighborhood, whose culinary roots run deep in family history. It’s in that spark in people’s eyes with the mentioning of collard and mustard greens, broccoli and cabbage. While in light of that, I realize that there would be no significance to those conversations if my own generation were not so utterly removed from fresh food culture. The younger generations should have an opportunity to hear the history of their elders, reconnecting them to an unknown food system.garden 6 garden 3

 

     A large reality I have come to respect and love throughout these past years, is that we all have a relationship to our food. And no group of people know a change in relationship to food like us here in the US. And even then, whether it’s a long distance or up close and personal relation, there is a story to be told! So why not make a community garden speak the stories of food history? I have a couple ideas to attempt to incorporate some of the local history with food into the garden itself. From the stories I have already heard, it is apparent that the history of this neighborhood is a very strong asset. In my perspective, shining light on some beautiful experiences with gardening and fresh food, that very well may be going unacknowledged, would be able to expose a powerful asset that could inspire more members of the community to get involved in the garden.

 

So we’re making progress and it’s exciting to think about this space full of color and fresh food this winter. Thank you again for all the support and I hope fall has welcomed everyone nicely thus far!garden 5garden 4

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Houma, Louisiana

It was a warm, humid morning despite the early hour as Bennett, Melanie and I made our way to Charlie Hammond’s airplane hanger in Houma. When we arrived, Charlie, our pilot, asked us where we would like to fly that morning. We suggested a few places, but ultimately knew that Charlie would know the best places to flyover since he has lived in the area for more years than we have been alive.

After a quick conversation, we piled in the four seater airplane, Charlie and Bennett in the front and me and Melanie in the back. We buckled our seat belts, situated our in-flight headphones, and held our cameras at the ready. As we taxied over to the run way for take-off, Charlie talked to air traffic control in what sounded like code to the untrained ear. I guess somewhere in that conversation we were cleared for take off because before I knew it, we were off the ground.

We rose higher in the sky and not long after, the closeness of the encroaching water from the Gulf was evident. Not just a little bit of water, but a vast, watery expanse. As we flew near it, Charlie made his predictions for where the water would be in as little as the next six to eight years. He pointed out places that he said had not long ago been lush, green fields but are now under water.

Being in the air offered a unique perspective for just how daunting the encroaching water is. It is vast and powerful and always unyielding. The dredging of canals for the oil and natural gas industry causes salt water from the Gulf to steadily creep inland, which causes more marshes to break down causing more water to cover what was once land, leading to this environmental crisis of the wetlands disappearing.
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The most striking part of the flyover was when we flew over the town of Pointe aux Chene. Having driven to Pointe aux Chene in one of my first weeks here, I knew what is was like on the ground there. I saw the semi-stereotypical image of water coming right up to the road on both sides, signs sticking up out of the water that clearly were from a time when the area on the sides of the road were open fields. I think those are the most sobering things to witness. Man-made objects out of place. Signs that say “no trespassing” in a body of water or the tops of tombs poking up from underwater. These are the moments when I realize this problem is very real.

When we drove to Pointe aux Chene, looking back, I think I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing. But when I saw it from the air, there was no denying the vulnerability of the community of Pointe aux Chene. The road was barely recognizable from the air: the water surrounding it made it look like a thin, pipeline stretching through the water, not a road. It took me a minute to realize that was the road we traveled on and that road connects this community to higher ground. That is the road that many generations of people have traveled to their home in Point aux Chene, and that is the road that will eventually be underwater, threatening this place, this community, these people.

After this sobering reality, Charlie flew us over a healthy marsh, one without many canals cut through it for boats, one with lily pads and cypress trees and marsh grasses. It was very hopeful to see a healthy marsh and not far from such an unhealthy area. But of course, we live in this tension of hopeful idealism and stark reality, and Charlie mentioned that this healthy marsh would most likely suffer from saltwater intrusion not too long from now.DSC_0671

 

A few weeks later I found myself in the tribal village of Pointe au Chien, not on land and not in the air, but this time in the water. I had the opportunity along with my fellow Young Adult Volunteers to go out in the bayou in the boat of a local couple, Donald and Theresa. They took us on their boat down the twisting and turning bayous with such ease that made us wonder how they don’t get lost out there.

If I ever had any doubt about how beautiful south Louisiana is, that doubt doesn’t exist anymore. It is gorgeous: the juxtaposition of the blue sky and the green marsh with the sun glittering off the water made this trip on the bayou the most beautiful witness of creation I have experienced since moving here. Donald and Theresa showed us crab traps, pointed out wildlife, took us down canals that were dredged by the oil and natural gas industries. Again I was faced with the sobering image of man-made objects coming out of the water when we boated by a line of telephone poles looking incredibly out of place standing in water.

 

The most exciting thing we saw on our bayou tour was dolphins. Yes, that’s right, dolphins in the bayou. Of course we all found it very exciting to see dolphin fins surfacing ten yards from our boat since it is a rare occasion to be so close to these majestic animals. Although exciting, the dolphins illustrated just how far salt water intrusion has invaded the bayou.

 

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Prior to my experiences visiting the wetlands by land, air, and water I knew the wetlands were in danger, and I knew the crisis was just that, a crisis. I had heard the statistic “every 48 minutes a football field of wetlands disappears” too many times to count. But hearing facts, figures, and secondhand stories does not do the wetlands justice. There is no way for words or photos or stories to fully encompass the importance of this area and the dire need for this issue to be taken seriously. Only through feeling the saltwater spray on my face and seeing with my own eyes the eerie remnants of an area that was once land did this crisis become very real.

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The New YAVs Have arrived!!

Check out these pictures from our first week together! 
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Update from Colleen

I arrived back in New Orleans yesterday. Even though I’m still trying to figure out which of the four time zones I’ve visited in the past week I left my brain in, I was back to work today. I met my supervisor at her house to take a ride down to Pointe-aux-Chenes for an evening meeting with a representative from the Intertribal Agricultural Council and the Mobile Farmers Market.

While she was getting ready to go, she asked about my time home and my travels. Somehow we got to talking about how I would go about answering relatives when they ask what I am doing in South Louisiana.

FUMBLE! (Sorry, watching the Saints game. I am back in South Louisiana.) (But also, that describes how I generally feel when trying to explain to people what my job is.)

Really, it’s difficult to describe my work. The day to day is always different. Giving presentations, coordinating conservation efforts, planning and taking part in planting projects, connecting different organizations… some days I’m working from home in my pajamas, some days I’m dressed up and sitting in meetings (and some days I’m dressed down—I love working in natural resources conservation), some days I’m covered in mud. I’ll let you guess which days are my favorites!

This meeting tonight was really good. There were about twenty people from the Pointe-aux-Chenes to talk about first people’s agricultural products. The Mobile Farmers Market gathers products from around the country– there was blue corn flour and dried cholla blossoms from the southwest, cranberry syrup and organic corn from Minnesota and Wisconsin, silver and beaded jewlery, wild rice (real wild rice, which is very different from what they call wild rice in the grocery stores), salmon from the Pacific Northwest.

The goals of the program are not just reconnecting tribal trade routes and selling goods, but telling stories. The program has revived food traditions for many tribes, regardless of their federal or state recognition or lack thereof. The IAC works to help tribes gain better access to USDA programs, and seeks market outlets for their goods. Some very cool work going on.

I enjoyed sharing a meal and talking with more members of the community, especially since I’ve been partnering with the First People’s Conservation Council. Tonight I met a man who invited me to work as a deck hand on his shrimping trawler this May. YES PLEASE! I have been able to have the most unique experiences here in South Louisiana. Even as a vegetarian, that sounds awesome. First day back, and I’d say I’m off to a good start!

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Update from Kalyn

Earlier this month, a couple of my housemates and I had the privilege to attend Montreat’s annual College Conference. It’s a Thursday-Sunday morning conference targeted at young adults in college. Lucky for us NOLA YAVs, there were a few extra spots in a group from Baton Rouge that needed filled, and three of us had the opportunity to go.

The conference’s theme was “At the Well.” The worship services focused on Jesus and the woman at the well and what that pericope can teach us about interfaith dialogue. The keynotes discussed the idea of interfaith dialogue and how amazing it is when interfaith groups work together to help their neighbors. There were examples of faith communities forming a wall around a mosque Muslims could worship after 9/11 and stories about sitting shiva.  I assure you, I believe that interfaith dialogue and cooperation certainly needs to happen if we ever want to achieve “world peace” and care for our neighbors. However, at a conference about interfaith dialogue, there was ONE Muslim woman that spoke to the group of college students. Where were the other faith traditions? It is a topic that does indeed puzzle me. But there’s one that puzzles me more.

How can we talk about coexisting and working with other faiths when we don’t tolerate, dialogue or interact with other Christians? I recently spoke to a pastor who admitted that neither his church nor the other couple of churches within a few blocks interact with each other. They just don’t have time and they do things differently and have a different mission(my words, not his).

Even when churches work together the politics and power struggles keep churches from connecting in a manner that is foundational for the church.

I think it goes deeper than that though. Even within a church building the community is separated and not working together toward feeding His sheep. In secular culture, we are frequently told that we’re individuals, that we should focus on ourselves, we’re all snowflakes, unique, and we all fall to the ground separately, apart from each other. I read an article today from Relevant Magazine that elaborates on this idea. You can read it here. We’re so focused on being individuals that we forget that we’re individuals making up the Body of Christ.

Yes, while it’s important that I develop my faith and my being, it’s also important for me to recognize that I am part of a larger community. I am part of a church community, and that church is part of the church universal, the Body of Christ that includes not only people I like, but people that I disagree with, argue with, desire to be as far away from as possible…

My point is that we shouldn’t let our differences divert us from the task at hand: feeding Christ’s sheep. That’s really what that conference that I mentioned at the beginning was about. Just because we believe, look, speak, learn, think, worship differently does not mean we cannot work together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widow; fight for justice where there is injustice.

While we’re working on coexisting with those of different faiths, perhaps we can work to coexist within ourselves, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s live in peace together whether Christian, Taoist, or Islamic. Let’s strive toward peace together whether Hindu, Buddhist, or Jewish.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom.

K

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Update From Alyssa

WARNING: The following blog post will make you hungry. Other side effects include mouth watering, wishing food could be grabbed through a screen, and the desire to immediately book a plane ticket down to New Orleans. Continue at your own risk.

Anyone that knows me can tell you that I love trying new restaurants and new food. Living in New Orleans has been the perfect place to not only eat food that I’ve had before but also try new food that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I noticed going through my pictures on my phone today that I have documented most of the delicious cuisine that I have eaten here (probably so I refer back to it and enjoy the meal all over again). I am hoping you can tell from these pictures just how right they do food down here in the Big Easy.

Jambalaya is a classic Louisiana Creole dish that gave me my first true experience with andouille sausage – spicy, flavorful and absolutely delicious. I’ve had jambalaya a bunch more times since being here and it’s honestly become one of my favorite dishes. To top it all off it’s also extremely easy to make and filling in the most satisfying of ways. Pictured above is the jambalaya from River’s Edge in the French Quarter from my first day in New Orleans.
A surf and turf shrimp and pulled pork Po-Boy from Parkway Bakery that I had during my first week in New Orleans. It was absolutely delicious, although I must admit that I haven’t had another Po-Boy since I have been here. Apparently they are a little different wherever you go and a catfish Po-Boy is definitely on my list of foods to get soon. Po-Boy’s are another classic New Orleans food item and although there are many theories as to how they got their name no one can argue their deliciousness.
I don’t even know where to begin on how to describe the glorious combination of ingredients that make up this gourmet hot dog. Bacon, relish, onions, tomatoes and chili on a delicious bun. I don’t think I said a single word until my food was completely gone. For the record, I have always been more of burger gal but this hot dog is an exception. Dat Dog, where this hot dog is from, also hosts trivia every week and we got 5th place when me and some of my housemates went – what, what! Just a fun place and great food – what could go wrong?
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Disco Fries! French fries smothered in cheese and debris gravy (basically shredded beef in delicious gravy). They can be found at the Bayou Beer Garden in Mid-City where I’ve spent four hot afternoons cheering on the Saints. As you can see from the number of forks, these fries are awesome from sharing and go great with a cold beer. Needless to say, they are absolutely divine and I am glad I discovered them.
The infamous Cafe du Monde beignets. There isn’t much else to say about them except that they are possibly one of the most satisfying and delicious things ever. The best way I hear them described are like a funnel cake – fried dough covered in powdered sugar. But you have to be careful because if beignets are the major leagues, funnel cakes haven’t even made the team. They are just that good.
My most recent New Orleans cuisine experience. Eggs Benedict from Madeline’s Cafe located on the corner of Carrollton and St. Charles. Hands down the best eggs Benedict I have ever had (and I have eaten LOTS of eggs Benedict). Instead of English muffins, both ham AND bacon are piled onto a fresh croissant and then topped with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. I ate the entire thing no problem. Let’s just say that will not be the last eggs Benedict I will have there.
Don’t let Anna Leigh’s large mouth distract you from the delicious snoball she is eating. At the pumpkin patch this past weekend, I tried my first snoball – mango and passionfruit. I was a little skeptical if I was going to like a snoball but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. Not too sweet, refreshing and the ice is really finely crushed so it’s just delicious.
Pictured above is the brisket platter from The Joint, a restaurant in the Bywater, and is the best food I have eaten here and possibly ever. I knew going into The Joint that I was going to be eating some delicious BBQ – it is consistently praised for being the best BBQ in New Orleans. But even going in with that mentality I was not prepared for how amazing the food was. The brisket was flavorful, smokey, tender and juicy, the mac and cheese was TO DIE FOR and I barely made it to the beans because I was so full. Absolutely divine!
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Behold! Shrimp and roasted corn cheesy grits. I got this delicious concoction at Gumbo Fest that took place in Armstrong Park. I had never had grits before moving to New Orleans but they are now quite possibly one of my favorite foods. This was my first true introduction to grits and it was a good one! So flavorful and satisfying. I told myself that this would not be my only bowl of shrimp and roasted corn cheesy grits!
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Last but not least, my most recent encounter with delicious food. This fried chicken is from a hole in a wall place called Melba’s. I say it is a hole in the wall place because it is connected to a laundry mat. Who wouldn’t want to wash their clothes and then eat delicious fried chicken? Delicious fried chicken is an understatement. The outside was crunchy and seasoned perfectly and the meat was juicy, tender and incredible. I ordered 8 wings thinking I would have some leftover for later. Let’s just say I didn’t!
Experiencing new food has been one of the most fun part of living in New Orleans. It has truly allowed me to immerse myself in the culture and allowed me to explore the city through a unique lens. I look forward to my future food endeavors. 
 
Until next time!

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