Country Roads Magazine "Embrace Your Place" Issue May 2021

Page 34

N O T- S O - S I D E H U S T L E S

A Move to Markets

A YEAR INTO THE PANDEMIC, SMALLSCALE PASSION PROJECTS FLOURISH

Story and photos by Jason Vowell

J Leah Vautrot (pictured below) started her Mid-City coffee shop, Coffee Science, in early 2020. Once COVID-19 hit, she began to seek out ways to collaborate with other small businesses. She now hosts a farmers’ market every Sunday morning.

Luci Winsberg and Tyler Correa started Fish Hawk, a fishmonger and pop-up specializing in fresh local seafood, during the lockdown. They are two of many individuals who left their previous professions in the wake of Covid to pursue their passion projects.

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M A Y 2 1 // C O U N T R Y R O A D S M A G . C O M

ust before sunrise on a spring morning, Rome Julian will start up his stake bed truck, revving the engine to a steady purr. He’ll turn the dial on his radio, releasing New Orleans’ most iconic soundtracks, courtesy of WWOZ, out of the open doors. Julian might worry about the brass band music disturbing the neighbors at this hour, if he had any neighbors. Boots crushing the dewy grass, he’ll begin to load flats of vibrant microgreens glistening in the cobalt blue twilight, followed swiftly by radishes, turnips, cabbage, kale, lettuce, and green onions. Just as the sun threatens to break the horizon, roosters will crow in protest of his imposing figure collecting cartons of eggs from their warm coops. Julian’s farm, Laketilly Acres, sits on a quiet corner of Robert E. Lee Boulevard (soon to be Allen Toussaint Boulevard) and Peoples Avenue in the old Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans—across the railroad tracks from Southern University and a stone’s-throw from Lake Pontchartrain. A head turn clockwise reveals the distant and shadowy monoliths of the central business district. Laketilly encompasses nearly an acre of land where houses once stood before Hurricane Katrina. The plot is now finely tilled and rowed with carefully cultivated gardens. Plywood and chicken wire coops resting on caster wheels spring up like Stonehenge in the morning mist, rotated daily so the chickens always have a fresh patch of grass to pluck from. “Right now, I’m setting myself up for the increase in demand.” Julian said. “I have twenty garden beds, each fifty feet wide, all loaded with spring vegetables.” Julian hasn’t always been a farmer. For seventeen years, and up until the pandemic, he was working over sixty hours a week as a camera assistant on big budget movies, television shows, and commercials. “I was already working on this farming idea before the lockdown,” Julian said. “Working in film is tough. Your career can be very long or very short.” The virus wasn’t the first thing to threaten Hollywood South. The film industry has gone through periods of ups and downs. It’s a transient job affected by politics, tax incentives, and union strikes. Film workers often have some sort of side hustle to fill the financial gaps when on-set jobs get lean. Julian’s green thumb took hold at his Gentilly home, less than a mile from where Laketilly Acres currently sits. “It became a situation where I had to have a talk with my wife,” Julian laughed. “I was like, ‘Listen, I’m gonna rip the front yard up. Let’s grow some food.’ And that just kinda snowballed to the back yard, then into my neighbor’s yard. Next came the chickens so we could have our own eggs.” Julian started with two chickens, which grew to four, then


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