I’ve written about the Vietnamese community in New Orleans in this blog as well as in my New Orleans blog and so am always glad when I see a news story on it, especially one on an international site.
Some background about our Vietnamese neighbors: the community was settled by the Catholic archdiocese and was made up of (originally) two North Vietnamese fishing villages. The land they settled was largely unused and is in the east along the waterways, where fishers have long made their living. The community kept to itself almost entirely until Katrina when their activist priest Father Vien challenged the city of New Orleans to rebuild as quickly as they wanted.
The Vietnamese fishers were active in the fight to get restitution after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and even more so after the 2010 BP oil spill. It is important to note that for fishers, one of the biggest barriers they have for making a living is the massive amount of seafood imported into the US; the standards that local fishers follow, especially those family fishers that largely operate in the “inside waters,” are not expected of those corporations that operate in China and elsewhere. The inside waters fishing seasons are opened and closed based on the size and quality of the catch and so limit overfishing. It is also important to note that many of the fleets operating in the Gulf in the federally-controlled waters are not primarily family or one-boat fishers but instead large companies scooping up your Red Lobster all-you-can-eat buffet items.
The Viet farming community in the East had been less visible pre-2005 with most of the elders growing food only for themselves and for their small Saturday morning farmers market, held from 6 am to 8:30 am or so on Alcee Fortier Blvd. After 2005, the community began to organize efforts and had grand plans to build a community/cooperative farm along the levee, but had some bad counsel and finally, government agencies as well as some cultural barriers (communication style with funders, generational politics etc) stalled those efforts.
The Veggi Coop is a wonderful initiative and deserves lots of attention; to be clear, cooperative farming initiatives had been in the works there for some years and farming cooperatives like Mississippi Association of Cooperatives have led the way since the 1970s. So, for the focus of the BBC story to be on socialist or communist fears as the barrier seems like a red herring compared to the real concerns farmers and fishers have about organizing with their competitors, no matter from where they hail.
I don’t want to denigrate this story as I appreciate the attention, but the issues for small-scale farmers whether urban, suburban or rural, is profit, not just sales and long term infrastructure support, not just access to markets. What is exciting to see publicized is the cooperative itself; the addition of another cooperative is extremely welcome and in my mind, creating more of them is necessary in order to grow more regional food systems.
What coops like this have done admirably well is to reduce the costs of marketing; my hope is that these fine folks can gain support to next tackle infrastructure and policy issues and to connect their efforts to the rural farmers and fishers across the Lake Pontchartrain watershed. The Veggi Cooperative is one of the few outright success stories in urban agriculture since Katrina (along with Grow Dat Youth Farm) and both should be celebrated for making it in a very turbulent and uncertain time.
*Here is one of the Go Fish/Go Market/Go Farm films of the 30 or so that I made for Market Umbrella with Kellogg funding. This one was about the Vietnamese community:
See all of the films made in that series here.