The National Food & Beverage Foundation Selects “Culinary Entrepreneurism” Scholarship Recipient
NEW ORLEANS – Ica Crawford has trained with all-star chefs, developed an expertise in horticulture, and launched GroNola, a local organization that enables farmers to market their products through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Now, the native of Meridian, Mississippi is poised to take her career as a culinary entrepreneur to the next level.
Crawford recently received the Paul McIlhenny Culinary Entrepreneurism Scholarship from The National Food & Beverage Foundation (NatFAB), which grants her access to Rouse’s Culinary Innovation Center by Jennair inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) for one year, free of charge. She’ll also have a chance to work closely with the foundations’ staff to foster valuable business and interpersonal connections.
“We were looking for the resources that would allow us to grow our business,” said Crawford, recalling how she and a friend stumbled upon the scholarship. “We were accepted, which has been nothing but a blessing to us.”
While studying culinary arts at Delgado Community College, Crawford apprenticed under such chefs as Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, and Eric Vieny of Muriel’s. She later participated in the school’s horticultural sciences program. Crawford also studied biological sciences at the University of New Orleans. After graduating, she became the director of horticultural process for a hydroponic/aquaponic facility.
Crawford created GroNola so a community or member block could leverage their unity to purchase heirloom produce at a lower cost. Through this company, she creates value-added products such as kimchee, jams, jellies, pickles, sauces, dried, or mixed products for distribution with CSA Shares.
In addition to serving as the on-site botanist for Our Garden, a community farm in New Orleans’ Carrollton neighborhood, Crawford has created a catering division offering high quality, low volume custom meals, with local ingredients.
“Ica is a passionate and talented culinarian. She is also disciplined in horticulture, hydroponics, and aquaculture,” said Jyl Benson, the culinary programming director of SoFAB. “With her skills, professionalism and boundless creativity, she is the ideal recipient of this scholarship. Assisting culinary entrepreneurs in turning their career dreams into realities is central to what we do.”
The Paul McIlhenny Culinary Scholarship is endowed by a grant from the family of Paul McIlhenny, the late president and CEO of McIlhenny Company, which is the Louisiana brand that makes Tabasco brand products.
As the third scholarship recipient, Crawford replaces chef Serigne Mbaye, who is currently working to open a restaurant with a celebrated chef in Dakar, Senegal. Both Mbaye and Dwynisha “Dee” Lavigne, the 2017 scholarship recipient, will serve as mentors to Crawford. Lavigne continues to work in baking and pastry arts within the museum’s culinary entrepreneurship program.
Crawford thinks the experience will give GroNola, and community supported agriculture, the exposure it needs to thrive.
“Our true message and mission is to feed people good food – to bring awareness about our local farmers, supporting them and supporting the infrastructure of the small farmer,” she said.
Throughout the coming year, Crawford will host open-to-the-public classes at SoFAB, including one this weekend. Pickle Academy 2.0, where guests will learn about pickling and preserving herbs and produce, takes place on Saturday, August 3, at 3:30 p.m. Visit southernfood.org for more information.