How the Garden on Mars Project Began
Back in 2003, Jeanette Bell bought a trash-filled vacant lot in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. She transformed it into an organic garden filled with brilliant roses, citrus, and vegetables she grew all by herself. She is replicating this same model in the Lower Ninth ward where there are still hundreds of blighted lots post-Katrina.
From Flowers to Food
After Katrina, there was a great need for fresh food in New Orleans, so Jeanette's focus moved from flowers to veggies. In 2010, she met chef Ian Schnoebelen of the Bywater restaurant Mariza and has been selling garden-fresh ingredients to him ever since. Ever a flower lover, Jeanette still grows plenty of blooms, including rose petals supplied to Smoke Perfume as well as local florists.
Since Katrina, more contaminants have ended up in our soil. We make soil contamination a non-issue by covering the land with raised beds containing compostable materials. We teach our gardeners how to grow organically both for their own food and what they sell to local restaurants, markets, and florists.
Why New Orleans Is Special
Living in a cold climate for most of her life, Jeanette struggled to grow flowers year-round. But when she moved to New Orleans, she started growing all 12 months of the year(!) New Orleans is as close to heaven as a gardener can get. The most magnificent zinnias grow in the heat of the summer, not to mention more basil than you can imagine.
Why Urban Gardening Matters
Gardens are an environmentally sustainable, potentially profitable use of overgrown land. And in the vacant properties that pepper neighborhoods throughout New Orleans, particularly in the Lower Ninth, urban gardens give us hope, health, and opportunity.