NEW ORLEANS, LA-– Today, the City of New Orleans reinforced its cultural ties and friendship with its international sister city, Matsue, Japan, by hosting a delegation of business leaders for several special activities, including a plant exchange that will yield educational fruit for students at Langston Hughes Academy Charter School.
At a ceremony this morning at Dillard University, a delegation from Matsue presented the City and students from Langston Hughes Academy (LHA) with Japanese fig tree cuttings that will be housed and cultivated in Dillard’s greenhouse during a required quarantine period. The fig trees will then be planted in school gardens that are part of FirstLine School’s Edible Schoolyard New Orleans Initiative, including the Langston Hughes Dreamkeeper Garden.
In return, the LHA students presented the Matsue delegation with the City’s gift of okra seeds and a cookbook of favorite New Orleans recipes.
“We’re eager to see these fig plants grow and thrive, just as we hope our relationship with Matsue will flourish,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “This visit was an important step toward continued cultural understanding, a strong sister city relationship with Matsue, and many future cultural and economic exchanges.”
The idea of the edible plant exchange came from Matsue, and representatives from that city chose fig trees, which are widely grown in Japan for their fruit. In order to fulfill U.S. Department of Agriculture quarantine requirements for foreign plants, the City reached out to Dillard University to house the 30 fig tree cuttings in its greenhouse. Dillard has an existing partnership with Langston Hughes Academy on a program called “From Seed to Table.” The program creates the opportunity for Dillard University students and LHA scholars to use the greenhouse located on Dillard’s campus as an educational facility twice a week. As part of the project, vegetable seeds will be planted in the greenhouse for initial growth and then transplanted to the LHA Dreamkeeper Garden.
The fig tree cuttings will remain in the Dillard greenhouse for two years, and then will be transplanted to gardens at five FirstLine Schools across the city.
“I am always excited when we can find new ways to partner and engage the community. This is exactly that kind of partnership,” said Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University. “Working with the City of New Orleans, our sister city Matsue, Japan, and the Langston Hughes Academy, we have a unique opportunity for learning on many levels,” he added.
”The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans is thrilled to partner with our fellow garden enthusiasts from our sister city of Matsue to broaden the knowledge our scholars have about international horticulture,” stated Claudia Barker, Executive Director of Edible Schoolyard New Orleans. “Our scholars will participate in an intercultural exchange through which they will learn about a similar climate, thousands of miles away, where a non-traditional Louisiana crop, like okra, can thrive. This lesson will continue for years as the Japanese fig trees flourish throughout our five gardens.”
The Matsue delegation’s visit also included a tour highlighting New Orleans’ rebuilding efforts, several meetings with City officials and local business leaders, and a luncheon hosted by the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and the New Orleans Business Alliance.
Although Matsue, which sits along the banks of the Ohashi River in Japan, is thousands of miles from New Orleans, the two cities share much in common. Matsue is sometimes called the “water city” because of the prominence of lakes, the river and a network of canals in the city-scape and scenery. Like New Orleans, Matsue is also a popular tourist destination.
New Orleans and Matsue signed an official sister city agreement in 1994, but the cultural exchanges ended following Hurricane Katrina. Last year, Matsue Mayor Masataka Matsuura visited New Orleans to meet with Mayor Landrieu and to attend a luncheon in his honor, to discuss restoring and developing cultural and economic ties between the two cities.
This week’s visit by the Matsue delegation is a direct result of those meetings.
Unofficially, New Orleans’ ties to Matsue stretch back more than 100 years with a shared connection to author and journalist Lafcadio Hearn, who lived in New Orleans from 1877 to 1887 and moved to Matsue in 1890 and became a naturalized Japanese citizen. Hearn became gained international fame for his writings about Japan, particularly his ghost stories, and remains a favorite writer in that country.
The Matsue delegation’s visit coincides with the opening of a special Tulane University exhibition titled, “The Open Mind of Lafcadio Hearn,” featuring writings and other artifacts from Hearn. The delegation attended the exhibit’s opening reception that featured a lecture from Hearn’s great grandson.
City officials expect there to be continued cooperation and exchanges between New Orleans and Matsue going forward.
District D Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said, “I am excited about the rejuvenation of our sister-city relationship with the people of Matsue. I had the pleasure of leading a delegation of students to Matsue prior to Katrina, and will forever remember the kindness and hospitality of our sister city.”