NEW ORLEANS—JENGA Mwendo enrolled in the Small Farmer Leadership Institute Class III at the SU Ag Center in 2009, graduating in 2011.The same year that she registered for the Leadership Institute, Mwendo founded Backyard Gardeners Network (BGN) in New Orleans.
Earlier this year, Aetna Insurance selected to spotlight Mwendo for the March page of thee 2014 African- American History Calendar, “Community transformations: African Americans creating sustainable neighborhoods,” encourages healthy living. Aetna is an American managed health care company which takes healthy living seri- ously. Aetna is a member of the Fortune 100.
The Lower Ninth Ward native returned to New Orleans in 2007 to help rebuild the community after the 2005 Katrina disaster. Mwendo is director of BGN and community organizer who focuses on strengthening the community through urban agriculture. The non-profit organization’s mission is community building, neighborhood revitalization and cultural preservation through urban gardening. They organize food demonstrations, educational workshops, potluck meals, and live musical entertainment. “We get to share home-cooked foods with each other,” she said, adding that her 9-year- old daughter has been a big part of her work. The kids in the neighborhood now appreciate what it takes to grow good food.”
“If you have your own food source, you can bounce back a lot quicker after hurricanes,” Mwendo said. Jenga enjoys living in New Orleans “despite all the obstacles.”
Following her gradu- ation from the Lead- ership Institute in 2011, Mwendo was among 14 fellows selected by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Food and Community to receive an award. The 2011-2013 class of Fellows was a mix of grassroots ad- vocates, thought leaders, writers, and entrepreneurs.
The award came with a two-year fellowship that provided an annual stipend of $35,000 in addition to communications support, trainings, and travel. The program supports leaders working to create a food system that strengthens the health of communities, particularly children.
For this class of fellows, the selection committee focused on work that cre- ates a just, equitable and healthy food system from its roots up. More than 560 individuals applied for fellowships that year.