SQFT Studios Volunteer Work in NOLA

Working in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward

Eli Green, co-founder of SQFT Studios and Director of Design, traveled to New Orleans to volunteer in the Lower 9th Ward. He worked with Garden on Mars, an organization dedicated to helping the residents of the Lower 9th Ward rebuild in the wake of the Katrina Disaster.

One of the most visible effects of that disaster is the staggering amount of open space that was once a dense urban neighborhood. The lots in the 9th are 30 feet wide which lent to the dense urban context for which New Orleans is famous. Now, 11 years later, you wouldn’t recognize parts of the 9th as urban. Open space separates the remaining houses, lending a surreal rural feel to the landscape. Often all that is left of these homes is an imaginary border or some cement ruins of a foundation. Ghosts of houses, and a memory of a neighborhood. Many of these abandoned properties are now owned by the city.

Organizations like Garden on Mars are working to help the residents restore their neighborhood. Coordinated through the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development (CSED), volunteer groups are directed to organizations like Garden on Mars who are fighting to preserve the rich culture and history of these peoples and places. Garden on Mars’ mission is to provide gardening solutions to local residents in order to bring forgotten land back to life, to increase access to fresh food, and to empower residents to sell what they grow to local restaurants and florists. Classes are available where people can learn to become growers, and to construct their own gardens using salvaged, free, and inexpensive materials. One thing you must import is soil, as the earth there is no longer suitable for growing edible food – an effect of the pollution left behind when the flood receded.

Eli was fortunate enough to work with Garden on Mars to design a chicken coop that will accommodate up to 7 hens (the legal maximum there) and be replicable by residents. Having your own chicken coop can provide several dozen eggs a week. While in New Orleans Eli and a group of volunteers from his community set to work starting the construction of the coop to test the design, accomplishing several things at once: teaching people that they can build with their own hands, proofing a design that can be replicated, and showing the people of the 9th that they are not forgotten.

In Eli’s words “it was an incredible experience to join with so many people and work together for something good, I can’t wait to go back again.”

The downloadable documents to build your own coop will be available soon.

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