We both started working at Grow Dat Youth Farm because we needed jobs. We knew very little about gardening and didn’t know how we’d fit in.

We found a crew of people who supported us and helped us to appreciate the natural setting within Grow Dat’s corner of City Park. Now, that magical place is endangered, by the new City Park Master Plan, for reasons we don’t understand.

So, with hopes of making a difference, we want to explain our experience and why we hope that Grow Dat will be included in the final Master Plan. Each year, the Grow Dat program serves more than 70 young New Orleanians between the ages of 15 to 24.

Dayo, 18, is a freshman at Louisiana State University and a graduate of Ben Franklin High School. “I started at Grow Dat during my sophomore year in high school, because I needed a job. I think that’s why about 40 or 50% of us first came there, to get paid. But within a few weeks, our mindsets shifted; we realized this was more than any standard job we’d had before,” he says.

Sabria, 23, who is taking classes to complete her bachelor’s degree in government with an emphasis in public administration, also arrived at the Grow Dat farm needing to help pay bills at home. “I’m the oldest of a family of four,” she says. At the time, she was a 15-year-old student at New Orleans Charter Science & Math High School. She remembers her grandfather, who cuts grass around town, driving her to her first day in his van. As he dropped her off, she was nervous about her new job.

“As a middle-schooler, I was bright, but anxious,” Sabria said. After some time at Grow Dat, that improved. “I felt like a part of me was being affirmed that had not usually been affirmed,” she said. “At Grow Dat, I met people who had grown up in the same situation as me, who had blossomed in ways that I had never seen before.” Already passionate about social justice, Sabria led discussions. As she learned about farming, specifically Black farmers who made important historical contributions, she developed a strong connection to the land and an appreciation for it, she said.

Early on, when Sabria made mistakes at Grow Dat, she worried that she would be fired or treated differently. Instead, she would return the next day to kindness. “I was met with the same grace, the same love. And it wasn’t just for me, it was for everybody who walked through the door.”

About a year after she was hired, Sabria remembers sitting on a bench looking out at the lake and realizing that, with Grow Dat as a platform, she better understood herself. “My time at Grow Dat made me a calm person,” she said. “It made me able to express myself in a way that I wasn’t able to before.”

Dayo remembers that realization too. “We really learned and grew with each other,” he said. “I have always been a good student, but I never really wanted to wake up and go to school. I wanted to wake up and go to Grow Dat. That’s where I really began to love learning. It was a life-changing experience for me.”

We want to pause our stories here for a second, to emphasize that what we learned at Grow Dat is that most problems can be resolved amicably. We could arrive with a lot on our mind. Problems that seemed insurmountable. And someone on the Grow Dat staff would talk things through with us. That is at the root of Grow Dat’s mission, to gather the facts at hand and try to find peace, always. We want to state that here, to inject the spirit of compromise into the discussion about City Park’s future.

About a year into her time at Grow Dat, Sabria Earin (pictured above) remembers sitting on a bench looking out at the lake and realizing that she was starting to understand herself as a person. “My time at Grow Dat made me a calm person. It made me able to express myself in a way that I wasn’t able to before.”

Sabria grew up in the 7th Ward, where there are few safe greenspaces. “There were no parks near me, few spaces for teenagers that didn’t involved guns or violence. I felt very boxed in.”

At Grow Dat, she discussed history, problem-solving, gardening and cooking. “I had conversations with people who were culturally different than me, but we felt so similar. So I was going home and I was telling my grandpa everything I learned that day. I learned how to test the soil and to work it sustainably. Weeding became one of my favorite things to do. And I was bringing home kale and chard, which we couldn’t afford to buy, not enough to feed everyone.”

Now, kale is one of Dayo’s favorite foods. “And City Park is one of my favorite places. It’s possibly my favorite place in New Orleans,” he said. “But it just won’t feel right going to City Park, if there’s no Grow Dat there.”

As we write, we feel the need to reach out to Ms. Cara Lambright, who leads the City Park Conservancy. Ms. Lambright, we read a July 2023 interview with you in the Times-Picayune, where the reporter asked you what kept you up at night. “All that I can think about is how can the park better serve the people, because urban parks can do all sorts of things,” you said. “I think about it all the time when I hear about soaring crime, and especially when I hear that people keep leaving. I just go back to asking, ‘What can the park do? How can it help the people?’ I am a believer in parks and particularly City Park.”

As we read that interview, we felt confident that we could find common ground with you. We, too, are passionate about City Park and how it can best help the people. Please sit down with us and let us make plans together about the future of our beloved park.