Acadiana is home to a diverse farming community, ranging from small-scale operations on a few acres of land to family enterprises that span thousands of acres and multiple generations. Vegetables, fruit, cane, meat, seafood, flowers, herbs and honey, to name a few, grow abundantly here, thanks to hard working, local families.
While farmers have always been the lifeblood of our community – both as major contributors to the local economy and direct providers for our dinner tables – it’s sometimes difficult to know how best to encourage and promote them. We asked around and found several ways to do just that.
Go to Market
One of the easiest ways to support local growers is to shop regularly at a farmers market. Held weekly in virtually every parish throughout the Acadiana area, these marketplaces allow growers, and the culinary artisans who use their products, to sell directly to the consumer, providing a major source of revenue for farmers. Shannon Gonsoulin, Teche-area veterinarian and owner of Gonsoulin Land & Cattle, says you don’t have to spend a fortune. “Go to a farmers market once per week and buy two things. Anything. One steak and one jar of honey. Whatever. Just do that every week.” For a list of farmers markets in the Acadiana area, see the sidebar on page 53.
Find Some Co-op(eration)
One step removed from direct, farm-to-consumer purchasing is patronizing stores and restaurants that offer locally-sourced items on their shelves and menus. When you’re ordering at a restaurant, ask for their local selections. When you visit your grocery, look for signs that indicate locally-sourced items or, better yet, talk to the grocer about stocking more of them. If enough customers make it known that’s what they expect, then that’s what will begin to happen. Another good place to shop are co-ops and local markets, like Da Berry Fresh Market in New Iberia and Handy Stop Market & Cafe in Lafayette, which are teeming with local goods. Can’t find what you’re looking for in the stores? Lots of farms pre-sell harvests at a discount. Gonsoulin says, “We sell quarter, half and whole calves online. I ask how the customer wants it – which cuts they want – and that’s how I give it to them.”
One of the most entertaining ways to support the farming community is to support agrotourism. Tours, school field trips, birthday parties, mazes, pumpkin patches, u-pick farms, and other locally hosted events can not only help supplement income for the operation, but it can also spread awareness about the industry. Larger efforts, such as the Sugar Cane Festival and the Teche area’s anticipated ag museum, can also help jettison support for our growers. Billy Nungesser once said, “Not only do our agritourism attractions give visitors hands-on experiences...but [they] also allow them to delve deeper into the agriculture-related experiences you can find only in Louisiana.” Now, go pick a pumpkin.
Growers never tire of being reminded they are appreciated. While it’s easy to assume they know how much we admire and rely on them, it’s always a good idea to go out of your way to let them know. Ricky Gonsoulin, New Iberia Mayor Pro Tem and 5th generation sugar cane farmer says, “In the midst of the pandemic, we are all concerned about our local grocery store shelves becoming empty. So, when you see a local farmer, tell them ‘thank you’ for continuing to support your family with a safe, affordable and abundant food supply.” Hugging is optional.
Your voice is sometimes the most effective way to support area farmers. For example, if you know of a bill or proposition that affects the ag community, talk to someone at an agricultural or produce association, like Teche Growers Association, to find out how you can help. Call or write letters to lawmakers and your local representatives telling them why you support the growers’ stand on a bill.
Post your position on social media and ask others to do the same. Contribute to a PAC or a support fund. Sometimes a good old-fashioned, word-of-mouth campaign is the best way to show your support. Blair Hebert, LSU Ag Center’s Iberia Parish extension agent once quipped, “We’re doing everything we can to remind people that a bag of chips does not grow in a vending machine.” There’s your next Facebook post!