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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region.


Paul Arceneaux, community gardener

Metairie Community Garden

Laura Westbrook: It’s Friday morning and I’m out in the community herb garden that’s tended by Paul Arceneaux; the interviewer is Laura Westbrook. The garden is on publicly-owned land next to a church and there is a building, a former stable, attached to the garden in which Paul stores his supplies. You said that when you got back here after your evacuation there were about three feet of—what?

Paul Arceneaux: There was just trash all over the place. I had a bunch of flats of these four-inch pots that we were planning to bring to Parkway Partners, from whom I get the access to this building, and of course they were everywhere, and since they still had some value to them you couldn’t just loop them all up so I’ve already brought them back, a couple of hundred of them. So you end up having to pick them all up; this pile of gravel was maybe about six inches deep—.

Spread everywhere?


And it was a pile before?

Yeah; it was a pile before. It kind of is a pile now.

It’s a pile again with a lot of little pieces of—

There’s a lot of trash in it; that pile over there that’s been well dug that is chicken manure that I had gotten from one of our vendors at the Crescent City Farmers Market. It was considerably more mounded over before, as there was some water through here. A bench like that had been ruined—and virtually every piece of trash from a six-block radius washed in here, so it seemed, with the exception of my trash can which was gone.

I had that experience too.

The trash cans were preferred vessels for looters; they could float things from place to place. Whether that happened here I don’t know.

What have you heard about the quality of the water that was in this area? Are you concerned about, say, the fertilizer and the dirt and those sorts of things?

I’m planning to get soil samples. I just haven’t got to it yet.

There must be a long line of people needing to do that.

Well I haven’t gotten to find the details to do all of that stuff yet. It’s in the planning; it’s kind of like eating an elephant. You just have to take a lot of tiny little bites and they don’t always line up, but the thing that gives me a pretty good idea is I had—unlike areas that have had bad flood water like around your house—this stuff is still growing. You can see this basil over here was doing well.

Yes; in my neighborhood, one of the most otherworldly aspects of what you see is—

Let me tell you what it is—it’s the lack of color.

—yes; everything is that same kind of mud gray, even the air.

It’s like the Wizard of Oz in reverse. When you cross the 17th Street Canal you go through Technicolor to monochrome, and then the quiet too is just—it is surreal; it’s like every bad science fiction novel I’ve ever read.

( Read the full interview by following the PDF link above )

Date of interview:
2005-11-06 00:00

Laura Westbrook, University of New Orleans


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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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