The Canal Gardens of Village de l'Est


Aron Chang


August 10, 2022

Village de l’Est, also known as Versailles, is a triangle of former swampland that was urbanized in the second half of the twentieth century like much of New Orleans East. Along the northern edge, an earthen levee separates Village de l’Est from vast expanses of privately owned wetlands and Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. Wetlands and the 510 highway define the western edge, and Chef Menteur Highway forms the southern edge. 

In 1975, Vietnamese refugees moved in alongside African American residents and formed Louisiana’s largest Vietnamese community. Located in a  remote corner of New Orleans, Village de l’Est, is centered around the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. Homes and businesses line the banks of wide drainage canals and lagoons. Along these waterways, too, are extensive gardens. In small, densely vegetated plots, the older generations continue to grow traditional Vietnamese herbs and vegetables, allowing the community to sustain culinary traditions from their homeland on the other side of the globe. The gardeners draw water from the canals to irrigate their crops.  

Large canal garden (Maggie Hermann, 2021)

Like the “kitchen gardens” that are common in Southeast Asian villages, the gardens in Village de l’Est provide produce for household consumption. Here, though, the gardeners are also able to supplement their incomes by selling produce at the squatting market that takes place on Saturday mornings on Alcée Fortier Boulevard. Furthermore, the gardens fulfill an important social purpose, giving members of the older generation – many of whom do not speak English and feel disenfranchised in a new setting – a sense of purpose.

A gardener responding to questions during a Seeds & Beats walking tour (Maggie Hermann, 2021)

In recent years, many canal gardens have fallen into disrepair. The founding members of the community are passing away, and the younger generations are less willing to dedicate their time and energy to the ceaseless tasks of planting, growing, and harvesting in New Orleans’s heat and humidity. One development has been the founding of the VEGGI Farmers Co-op -- many community members lost their jobs as a result of the BP Oil Spill, and VEGGI was formed in order to provide sustainable economic opportunities through urban agriculture. At a central, canal-side location in Village de l’Est, the co-op trains community members in agricultural technologies such as greenhouses and aquaculture, and connects these farmers to customers across Greater New Orleans through farmers markets, restaurant sales, and a farm share program. VEGGI’s work has expanded to include the construction of a wetland buffer and other green infrastructure in order to address urban flooding and improve water quality in the waterways of Village de l’Est.

Canal gardens in disrepair (Maggie Hermann, 2021)


Resilient History and the Rebuilding of a Community: The Vietnamese American Community in New Orleans East

The Village of Versailles: A world within a world in New Orleans East

Christopher Airriess, “Creating Vietnamese Landscapes and Place in New Orleans,” in Geographical Identities of Ethnic America: Race, Space, and Place, ed. Kate A. Berry and Martha L. Henderson (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2002).

Aron Chang, “Versailles, New Orleans: Building and Sustaining an Immigrant Community in the Urban Periphery,” in SubUrbanisms: Casino Urbanization, Chinatowns, and the Contested American Landscape, ed. Stephen Fan (New London: Lyman Allyn Museum, 2014), 219-251.