VEGGI is a community member owned and operated farmer’s cooperative based out of New Orleans East, Louisiana. VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative is dedicated to empowering growers in the Greater New Orleans area, starting in New Orleans East, in order to create sustainable, high quality jobs that enhance the quality of life of communities through increasing local food access and promotion of sustainable agriculture.
Out in New Orleans East, in Village L’Este, across the street from Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, Thanh Nguyen waters the seeds he just planted in his plot at the VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative.
“He just planted mizuna,” explains Daniel Nguyen, translating for me from Vietnamese to English. Daniel Nguyen is Project Director for Veggie Farmer’s Cooperative, which was incubated by Mary Queen of Vietnam. “The actual pronunciation is ‘we-in,’ he explains, “but to simplify it, it’s just ‘win’ like a ‘win lose situation.’”
Wearing knee high rubber boots, Winn leads me past row upon row of gleaming green crops. “So these are more of grow rows, greens, lettuces, radishes, mustards, turmeric growing,” explains Nguyen. “This a Thai Roselle which is in the same family as hibiscus so we brew a tea out of it.”
Winn works both out in the field and also down the road in VEGGI Farm Cooperative’s administrative offices, where his team works on marketing, distribution, and fundraising so that the co-op can give micro grants to their growers, who also receive 80% of the coop’s profits.
Growers — like Thanh Nguyen, who says that his mizuna will be ready to harvest in about 20-30 days — are older than the folks working in VEGGI Co-op’s office.
“Our parents were born in Vietnam and came over here,” explains Daniel Nguyen. “And we were either born here or came over at a very young age.”
“And how about the farmer’s?” I ask.
“The farmers are all first generation. It’s about nine active farmers.”
Daniel Ngyuen says his generation – many of whom are bilingual – can both communicate with their farmers, who speak Vietnamese, and perform tasks that require English, like writing grants, and giving interviews. The older farmers bring their own set of skills.
“Vietnam being a predominantly agricultural society, a lot of folks carry those skills and knowledge with them from Vietnam,” says Daniel Nguyen. “But we also started with the mission of training farmers so that we’re all on equal footing. So you don’t have to have prior agricultural experience. And the whole idea is agriculture is an ever-evolving field, and so we’re always trying to keep on top of new developments and best practices.”
VEGGI Farmers Cooperative was born out of a community summit in 2010, which sought solutions to some of the major issues facing the Vietnamese community in Village L’Este, namely: unemployment and food access.
“If you want to step back, it’s Hurricane Katrina that really brought food access issues into light,” explains Nguyen. “This is a USDA identified food dessert. Meaning a lot of the folks in this community live in poverty, and live a significant distance—more than half a mile – away from the closest grocery store.”
Then, in 2010, there was the BP oil spill — an economic and environmental disaster.
“A lot of our folks were reliant on seafood industry for employment before the oil spill and over night those folks got displaced,” says Nguyen.
So in one fell swoop, this farmer owned and run cooperative, created jobs and access to healthy, locally grown food – which can be purchased in the community’s corner stores, CSA boxes, farmers markets, Good Eggs, and local restaurants.
Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative, click here, and to learn more about Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation, click here.