Right now there is a go-go dancer sleeping on a bunk bed in the farmhouse and a traveller from Germany staying in the loft. The traveller, Phillip, arrived to New Orleans with two dollars in his pocket. To prevent Phillip from walking across New Orleans at night David went to pick him up from the bus station and on the way back picked up his neighbor, Miss Carol, from the emergency room. Turns out, Miss Carol has a parasite she thinks came into her system through the water coming out of her faucet. From all the people that ask David for help, you might think he gets taken advantage of but that's not the case. He knows what his boundaries are and this seems to be the very thing that allows him to give so freely.
David used to be a boyscout. His father was an official of some kind in the Boyscouts of America. He was employed to move from place to place, improve the boyscout community in that place and then once it was healthy enough he and his family moved to the next spot. The Young family thereby moved all around the Midwest throughout David's childhood, a new place about every four years. David's father later worked as a groundskeeper for a Girlscout camp and then at Walmart as a way to have consistent health insurance. Work-traders rotate through about every month so clues about David's life come out slowly as little gifts by which the people working with him can piece together a blurry impression of what choices and events brought him to the Ninth Ward. We lived and worked with him for five weeks and we heard about his mother one time. She and his father both worked at an insurance company.
David's first career was in farm work. One day this week I had a real bad attitude about cutting goat grass. The lots around here are filled with grass that is 16 percent protein, perfect for goat feed, but getting it involves repetitive movement of the arms, wrists, shoulders, neck, hands and back that my body gets very angry about; it's a swinging side to side golf swing back and forth kind of movement, the grass flings about, if you looked up while you were doing it you would see the very grass you are trying to collect flying to the four corners of the wind. "Is this efficient? This is inefficient. Just do it." Afterwards, shoulders still floating from my body I asked David what the point of having the goats was. "Why don't you milk them or something?" I felt liquid protein to be a nicely measurable outcome of the that grass cutting ordeal. David responded by saying he'd worked on a dairy farm once. The farmer employed him because he himself had cancer too far advanced to bend down for milking. Those cows had to be milked twice a day. Raining? Milk the cows. Bad mood? Milk the cows. Your grandmother died? Milk the cows. David kept this up for several months after the owner died while the farm was prepared for auction.
Later, David was all ready set to go in with his boss and buy a plot of land in Michigan but the night before the lease-signing his partner committed suicide. The man had talked to David about his concern over his wife having an affair with another woman and that there was a very heavy debt on the farm but did not leave a note of explanation.
David's second career was as a police officer and then police chief. There was a racist man running the booth next to ours at the Holy Cross College Food Expo last week. He was lamenting all the dark skinned people running greenhouses in The Ninth Ward now. "They don't know what they're doing." The man tried to commiserate with David about this but David wouldn't engage. The anti-Trump rally was happening in New York City that night and I wondered about the line between freedom of expression and tolerance of hate speech. David told us about a time he had to stand as a police officer between KKK demonstrators and the people protesting them. "My job was to make sure no one got hurt. My inclination was to turn my back on the KKK and face the people protesting its existence but I couldn't do that. I had to stand facing the line between them so that I could watch both sides."
David started coming down to New Orleans to provide relief after Katrina. He noticed many things three among them being- First, there was plenty of attention on rebuilding houses but none on the fact that residents of the Ninth Ward were living in a food desert even though they were surrounded by newly viable land. Second, the food that was grown wasn't bearing fruit because the pollinators had been decimated by the flood. Finally, that he was going to his home up North just to get the clothes and supplies he needed to come back down to New Orleans. So, he moved here and founded Capstone.
His house took three years to build and he now uses it to house equipment, WWOOFers and a steady stream of couchsurfers. The house itself and Capston'es not-for-profit status encourages people to bring him things that they know will make it back into the community. We were working in the garden and a man knocked on the gate with the delivery of a truck full (a TRUCK FULL) of bread. We made three heaping piles in the living room- one for compost, one for animals, and one for people. Houses around here are raised up from the ground as a flood prevention measure and this exposes their undersides to vermin. One time I left a plum out on the windowsill and within twenty minutes ants had claimed it as their own. So, after we bagged the people-food bread pile and brought it to neighbors we organized the other bread mountains into towers sealed in plastic- one next to the couch the other next to the table that you walk around to get to the bathroom.
David leads a purposeful life. He has redefined for me what it means to live your values. Other organizations saw the vacant and blighted lots as a way to buy cheap land, grow food and sell it at market for prices the land's closest inhabitants cannot afford. Instead, Capstone runs on the commitment to give out produce at free or reduced cost and to help people to grow their own food. David provides the tools and help anyone might need for the first two years of gardening their plot and by the third year the garden is usually self-sufficient. Last year, with the help of government grant and private donation, David grew and distributed freely two thousand five hundred pounds of produce to his neighbors. He recently heard about the Ninth Ward Food Pantry so we delivered April's harvest there in laundry baskets ripe with collards, cauliflower, mustard greens, onions, kale, sorrel and romaine. After the delivery, David dropped us off at the farmhouse and then went back to stand in line and wait for his own box full of food.
David is a minster in The Church of The Brethren but he does not prosthelytize. Or more rightly, he does prosthelytize but only thorough the array of his actions. He does not use the word 'Jesus.' He used the word 'God' only once in the time that Jenny and I spent with him. I watched broccoli steam green one night as we discussed how Housing and Urban Development structures subsidize the low income end portion of apartments for the first five years of the development's operation. Afterwards, the low income end is usually pushed out by rising rent. I recalled an article I read recently about how the 'low income' end of mixed income housing in New York will have to make $40,000 per year to qualify. David chuckled. Do you know how much money I made last year? I was afraid to ask: Six thousand five hundred dollars.
"I was working as a police chief and over the course of one single day God showed me that there was another way to live. I left my gun and my badge and came down here to do Katrina relief. I never really left again."