Ask anyone at The Walls Project how the Baton Roots program got started and everyone will respond, “because of Mitchell Provensal.”
“I showed up at The Walls Project office to ask Casey [Phillips] for advice on how I could get this off the ground,” Provensal explained. “And he kind of took me under his wing and here we are.”
The seed was first planted when Provensal was working as a teacher at Capital Middle School. Although he had very little experience with gardening at that time in his life, he had developed a strong interest in it and began sharing his new knowledge with his students.
“I started a garden club with students,” he said. “I never learned [about gardening] growing up and seeing this gap with students now, it’s like, we’re so disconnected from food and nature. I thought, there’s got to be a better way.”
After his time at Capital, Provensal went to work with AmeriCorps. At the same time, he was volunteering with The Walls Project.
“I was managing the community gardens [through the Mayor’s office],” he said. “I was also helping run a summer youth program where we hired students. They would build the gardens for two weeks, then paint murals for two weeks.”
After completing his work with AmeriCorps, Provensal went back to school to get his master's degree in urban forestry. By the time he graduated, he put together all of the experience he had gained into one concept.
“The education side of this program basically started first,” he said.
That side of the program is called Hustle and Grow. It's now operating in three high schools in East Baton Rouge Parish. They include Capital, Scotlandville, and Istrouma.
The 10-week program teaches teens about sustainable urban agriculture. Although some of that is now done at the schools, the program was originally housed at BREC’s Howell Park.
“We broke ground during the MLK Fest of 2019,” Provensal noted. “We built the Harmony Garden first, which is 18 raised beds."
Later that same year, the first youth program was held and the students started during the summer maintaining the gardens. The program then expanded to weekdays during the regular school year.
“And then of course the Spring of 2020 is when the pandemic hit, so things got a little crazy,” Provensal recalled. “Our plan was to go into the schools and work with the students, and, of course, that didn't happen. Then, because there were issues with transportation, many didn’t have a way to get to the farm.”
BREC gave Baton Roots additional space at the 140-acre park to expand and create a much larger farm base
“It’s a beautiful, huge park,” Provensal said. “And they’re adding so many amenities to it. So we’re hoping as more of that stuff comes online, people will start coming out to the farm more.”
One way of getting people to the farm is with Sow Good Saturday. It’s held on the first Saturday of every month beginning at 10 a.m. It's free and open to the public.
“I’ll give a little demo. We go walk through the farm. People can harvest and share plants and seeds. People have lots of questions for me about their home garden, which I’m very happy to answer. We also get support from the American Heart Association and Geaux Get Healthy with having a chef that’ll do a cooking demonstration, as well as easy physical activities."
The two-hour event attracts people from all over the city.
“This year, it’s just been growing and growing,” Provensal said. “And we’re excited for all the people that come out.
During Sow Good Saturday, you’ll also get to meet all the great people working with Michell as part of the Baton Roots program. They include SK Groll (Coordinator of Operations), Jacquel Curry (Mobile Farm Manager), Hannah Wascomb (Farm Manager), Danesha Shepherd (Hustle and Grow), and Bryson Boyd (Farmhand).
You can also meet and talk to the team at the 10th Anniversary Celebration on Friday, August 5 a Chelsea’s Live. CLICK HERE to purchase your ticket.