Yo soy Tabitha Mustafa…

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The Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana (LFCL) is “La Cooperativa.” The community served by the organization is largely Latino, so one sure-fire way to stick out as a “gringo” is  to refer to La Cooperativa as “the LFCL.” This is because Spanish language and Latino culture fill the space. ¡Claro! Because this grassroots organization wants to make a difference in the Latino community of New Orleans, accommodating and incorportating its base is a large part of successfully executing their mission.

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The non-profit was started back in 2008 to address food security concerns for Latinos living in the Greater New Orleans (GNO) area. That area includes the parishes of St. Tammany, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard, in addition to Orleans Parish itself.

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By organizing a functional community food system, La Cooperativa hopes to improve the socioeconomic, health, and wellness standards of the GNO Latino community.

The mission of the La Cooperativa:

“LFCL facilitates urban agriculture in order to improve Latino access to food,
to create sustainable economic change in the Latino Community,
to increase food security for everyone living in the Greater New Orleans area,
and to support the environment.”

Essentially, the LFCL wants to improve the lives of the members of the Latino community who do not have adequate admittance to foodstuff or land due to lack of agency, financial prosperity, or citizenship status. The goal for La Cooperativa is to make a visible and long-lasting change in the GNO Latino society.

In order to make this sort of progress, a lot of time and effort are needed. For this reason, the LFCL runs on the hard work of both paid workers and volunteers. At the top of the pyramid sits the board of directors, followed by the executive staff, then the office staff, and ultimately, both community and student volunteers. They all, we all, work together on urban agriculture, adult education, and social service projects.

Es obvio! It is clear that La Cooperativa is making effective change in the GNO Latino community because business is booming. This is an understatement. The office is always buzzing with community members just stopping by to say hello, others to receive help filling out Supplemental Nutritional Assitance Program (SNAP or “food stamps”) paperwork, some come to take technology or English language classes, and others drop by once a month for the “banco de comida.”

Needless to say, La Cooperativa is somewhat popular. The LFCL has 393 likes on their Facebook page. It may not seem like much in comparison with Britney Spears’ page, but it is a significant number for an organization whose members struggle to buy food, let alone the luxury of internet. In a world where social media access is a rarity, a Facebook page with just shy of 400 likes speaks volumes to the popularity of the organization among Latinos and Latino rights activists.

Pero, free food and resources do not just appear out of thin air. Extensive work goes into grant writing, fundraising, and donation requests in order to fund the LFCL and all of its projects to improve the lives of its community members. And realistically, no one is going to give money to an organization if they cannot clearly see the results, or the postive changes that their dollars are making.

That’s why outreach and community interaction is so important. La Cooperativa takes the time to hold events like open houses or cocktail parties so that 1) outsiders can be invited into the organization to see the work it has done be put on a platform, 2) provide an environment for group members to connect and share ideas, and 3) a place for like-minded organizations to network and discuss resource sharing.

It is during these types of community-building events that I really have the opportunity to use my Spanish. Most of the time, I work alone in the community garden. There are no Spanish speakers there, no English speakers, no one. Luckily, close to the time I am finishing up my work some locals have come out to sit on their porches or to work on their houses. It is then that I have the opportunity to engage with the community, promote the work of the LFCL, and ocassionaly use my Spanish. I owe most of la practica of mi espanol to the older lady who sits on her porch talking to friends, supervising the men doing construction on her son’s house, and unrelentlessly asking me questions about La Cooperativa, the First Grace Community Garden that I work in, and my pescatarian eating habits. It is a bit strange, but at the same time, it is amazing. I am becoming a part of the community and I love that feeling.

So, from here, I hope to share some of my gardening knowledge and practice a bit of my espanol at the next community engagement activity I attend. It will be the General Membership Meeting and Garden Visit coming up this weekend. I also hope to be able to share things like how I turned this space around:
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I know I cannot do it alone. La Cooperativa knows it too. So, if you or someone you know might be intersted in joining the LFCL team, check out the information below.

First Grace Church: http://www.firstgraceumc.org/history.php
Latinola: http://latinolanow.org/
Mid City Community Garden: http://www.midcitycommunitygarden.com
Oportunidades NoLA: http://opnola.org/
Puentes: http://puentesno.org/

Quieres mas? For more information see the Latino Farmers Coopertive of Louisiana’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LatinoFarmersCooperativeOfLouisianaInc

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