Spotlight on Alumni: Nat Turner’s Our School at Blair Grocery ☆

In 2008, after a six-year stint as a New York City high school teacher, TC Social Studies Education grad Nat Turner rolled into New Orleans’ Ninth Ward in a battered blue school bus, offering free tutoring services to the area’s children.  A historically underserved population, these kids faced even greater peril in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as poverty deepened, families were displaced and hopelessness ruled the neighborhood.

Forward to 2011, where Turner is running Our School at Blair Grocery, an experimental educational and community center he founded in a Ninth Ward corner grocery store nearly destroyed by 14 feet of standing water.  Motivated by the simple wish to make a difference in a ravaged community, Turner has built the school with miniscule funds and help from volunteers.  “’If not now, when?  If not me, who?’” I asked myself that question and figured out the answer.  So here I am,” Turner explains.

Currently, he has six students.  But considering the endless stream of neighborhood kids coming through the school’s door (before and after their own school hours, on weekends), Turner’s student count—and influence on the social fabric of the community—skyrockets.

Turner provides broad-based education, Creative Arts, and GED work.  Much of the learning, though, happens beyond classroom walls, since at the heart of Our School at Blair Grocery is an organic garden tended in an adjacent lot.  Turner’s innovation, using urban farming as a means of creating environmental and social justice, arms his students with skills and knowledge he feels will help in the real world.  Earning the school $2,500 a week, the garden is a serious enterprise.  Children grow the produce with all-organic cultivation methods.  They bring the goods to market, which includes a low-cost corner farm stand on one end and lucrative accounts with upscale restaurants on the other.  And finally, the children are key components in a community-based food system where local production and the pride of a job well-done has the power to transform both the way the community eats and how they ultimately see themselves.

To visit the Our School At Blair Grocery website, including a blogspot charting the progress of building renovations, click here.

Click here to watch a tour of the Blair Grocery, pre-renovation, and hear Nat Turner share his vision for the project.

To learn about the school’s gardening philosophy and to hear from a 16 year-old student volunteer, click here.

To see photos of volunteers working and transforming the garden, click here.

To read the New York Times January 15, 2011 article about Turner, click here.