GROWING AND FISHING HISTORY
Gardening is an important part of our local culture, health, and economy. The first Vietnamese arrived in New Orleans East in 1975. Among their first activities was to establish home based gardens to grow the traditional fruits and vegetables that were not available locally anywhere at that time. As practiced in Vietnam, surplus from the gardens was brought to a community-created open market for sale to community members and tourists. This market, which has been running for 35 years, is open 6am-9am every Saturday morning on Alcee Fortier Blvd.
Fishing is also an important part of our local culture economy. Of the 40,000 Vietnamese in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, one in three work in the seafood industry. Vietnamese and Southeast Asian fisherman make up one-third of all shrimping vessels in the Gulf Coast. Many also work catching oysters, crabs and packaging seafood. Yet the fishing industry was negatively impacted by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. Since the oil spill, lower reported catches by fisherman in addition to skyrocketing fuel costs have severely hurt local fishermen and have led to high levels of unemployment among the Vietnamese community. The viability of the region’s seafood industry, particularly for small fishermen, is now in question.
Given that many in the fishing community have expressed a desire to stay in fields of employment in which they have already have years of experience and skills, MQVN CDC is exploring aquaponics as a sustainable agricultural and aquaculture alternative that can provide community members the opportunity to combine gardening with household fish farming. Aquaponics technology offers an opportunity for the community to transition towards safer, more environmentally and economically sustainable seafood production, and is a viable alternative to fishing wild stocks.
VIET VILLAGE SUSTAINABLE AQUACULTURE PARK
Aquaponics technology offers an alternative to public assistance or relief aid as it is an investment in a long-term, profitable, sustainable and green-job-creating industry with significant environmental benefits. The Viet Village Urban Farm Sustainable Aquaculture Park will serve as an aquaculture training center and business model with widespread community-level benefits.
A land-based, sustainable aquaculture industry for New Orleans East is a central component of the Viet Village Urban Farm project. As part of the comprehensive revitalization movement for sustainability and resiliency in Village de l’Est, Viet Village Urban Farm will include a major produce market, commercial agriculture, and community gardens. Project goals include:
- Developing the first U.S. production of Vietnamese value-added seafood products. Products such as fish sauce, dried fish and shrimp paste – popular throughout the Asian-American community – are currently imported from Vietnam, Thailand, and elsewhere. The opportunity to sustainably produce these items in the U.S. is an important commercial element made possible by this project.
- Producing high-quality aquaponic vegetables. Aquaponic vegetable production is an increasingly common component of land-based fish farms, where nitrogen waste from fish is used as input for vegetable production. These vegetables can command a high market price and produce high profits.
- Developing alternative energy sources. As the Aquaculture Park and Urban Farm scale up, the possibilities for developing alternative, renewable energy sources increase. Such energy sources include anaerobic digestion, which can process the waste stream of both animal and vegetable production.
CURRENT STATE OF THE PROJECT
MQVN Community Development Corporation and The Ocean Foundation hosted a community-based workshop in Village de l’Est in November 2010 with the goals of:
- introducing the concepts of next-generation aquaculture technology as an emerging opportunity for community economic development
- identifying market opportunities and community benefits at multiple levels
- building the basic elements of a Plan of Action that will guide the project
- engaging the community and earning its support of the project
There was strong participation from the community, including many impacted fishermen and fishing industry workers. There was also strong participation from partner agencies, including federal, state and local governmental agencies and NGOs. During the meeting, the ecological benefits of next-generation land-based aquaculture were demonstrated and compared to the many known flaws of open pen, nearshore and offshore aquaculture. The meeting discussed job creation and training for community members put out of work by the BP oil spill and its effect on Gulf fisheries. Also discussed were job creation opportunities, economic benefits and resilience and marketing potential for fish and hydroponic vegetables from the facility, including the offer of a local chef/restauranteur to supply his 29 restaurants with the New Orleans East sustainably and locally farmed fish, as well as related hydroponic garden products and products from the urban organic garden. The strong show of support from the community for the project set the stage for the finalization of a Plan of Action, a Socially-Responsible Investors’ Workshop, and a Technical Feasibility Study, including site assessment, market analysis, and facility design.
In 2011 MQVN CDC partnered with John Hopkins University Carey Business School to conduct a technical and economic feasibility study and business plan for the aquaponics project, which was presented to community members in July 2011. MQVN CDC has also developed partnerships with Delgado Community College for community aquaponic training sessions.
The project is now in pilot phase. With initial funding from Oxfam America, MQVN CDC now has a functioning on-site experimental and training center. The center serves to train community members on household and commercial implementation of aquaponics systems, and is also experimenting with aquaponics operations efficiency to translate to increased commercial sales. Vegetables currently being grown include strawberries, mint, kale, spinach, taro, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, sugar cane, and lettuce. These vegetables are fertilized from the water out-feed from fish tanks raising catfish, blue gills, and koi fish. MQVN CDC is now developing a growers cooperative to sell locally produced vegetables to metropolitan markets, including the Hollygrove Market and Farm and the New Orleans Food Co-op. MQVN CDC is developing aquaponics site designs with local community members, and is exploring how to provide financial and technical support as aquaponics technology for commercial agricultural and aquaculture production takes hold in the community.