Springtime Greening in the Gumbo Garden!

From Jyl Benson

Since Thanksgiving many weekends find a team of skilled volunteers devoting their time to making SoFAB's dream of a functional outdoor entertainment space and teaching garden into a reality. With the working name of "The Gumbo Garden" the deep space runs the length of the lot adjacent to the Rouse's Culinary Innovation Center by Jenn-Air, and it can be viewed through the kitchen door.


The design for the space, which  was generously executed by volunteer Steven Thesman of Woodward Design & Build, provides for cooking spaces to the rear of the garden, walking paths and  a concrete-based covered "porch." Exhibition spaces will highlight working outdoor culinary artifacts, such as the Franklin Smoker, which was donated by Austin Texas BBQ Pittmaster Aaron Franklin. The smoker is used heavily by the staff at Toups' South, Chef Isaac Toups eatery on the museum's campus. A canopy will be installed over the 1925 Mack Oyster Truck, which is under restoration by SoFAB board member and former Chairman of the Board, Edward Johnson .


Andrew Fox of Professional Construction and Restoration is in charge of overseeing the outdoor project. Teams of volunteers include friends of the museum, chefs, gardeners, brickmasons, engineers and contractors. Thusfar the yard has been cleared of debris and fencing is in the process of being installed. Chef David Harrower, Dr. Howard Conyers and Noah Weinberg have successfully completed the building of an above-ground double pit and a burn box  that will enable the cooking of two whole hogs at once. Once the fence is completed Eileen Mohan, formerly affiliated with the New York Botanical Garden, will oversee the installation of trees, shrubs and other plant materials to be generously donated by Urban Roots Nursery & Landscaping.

We hope to have the fencing in placed and the gardens planted by the end of April. When funding becomes available we will complete the installation of metal canopies that will make the garden accessible even in inclement weather.


"Our dream is to have the Gumbo Garden as an outdoor exhibit space that will also welcome guests for crawfish boils, fish fries, hands-on outdoor cooking and opportunities to learn about native southern culinary plants," said Elizabeth Williams, Founder and Executive Director of the National Food & Beverage Foundation and Director of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum.

For this project only, SoFAB is seeking skilled volunteers (concrete masons, builders, contractors, gardeners, electricians, engineers) to work on the garden. In exchange, volunteers are to submit their hours to Jyl Benson, Director of Culinary Programming, who will track their contributed hours. For every two hours worked the volunteer will be credited with 30 minutes of free rent for any of the spaces  on the New Orleans campus (garden, kitchen, museum floor). Amass enough hours and you can have a large event encompassing the entire campus- entirely free of charge!

Join us for the month of April 2018 as we Spotlight the Gumbo Garden as part of the 10 Years of SoFAB programming! To celebrate the opening of the Gumbo Garden we will be hosting a variety of programs and demonstrations that explore growing your own produce, using local ingredients, and enjoying the all-too-brief season of outdoor cooking in New Orleans. 

For more information on volunteering to work in the garden contact jyl@southernfood.org.