When I moved to Natchitoches Parish four years ago it was because I was instructing LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) workshops for the National Center for Preservation, Technology and Training. At that time my entire focus was on the built environment and saving the historic buildings while also ensuring that they were resource-efficient and healthy. The more research I did on the rich cultural heritage in the area, the more I realized how interdependent the built environment was with the natural environment. Agriculture served as the economic engine for the community and as agricultural trends changed, so did the built environment. As farming became mechanized, the size of farms grew, the number of small farms diminished, jobs on the farm decreased and people had to move to the city to seek employment. This devastated our rural communities. Natchitoches is by no means exceptional in this. This trend impacted communities all over the country and the world. Many times we devise intricate plans to address our problems when the solution lies in quite simply returning to our roots. Many of the residents in Natchitoches Parish are only one and at most two generations away from the soil.
Case in point, Judy Allen. You may know Judy for her creole creations, custom jewelry sold at her store Natchitoches Beads on Texas Street. What you may not know is that Judy is an avid gardener. Judy grew up in Cloutierville with her parents and nine brothers and sisters. She recalls her father sharecropping in two different areas. He farmed with a mule and a plow from sun-up to sun-down. Looking back she acknowledges that, “We were poor, but we were a typical family. Everybody was poor. We were never hungry because everybody grew something and we traded.” She began to recite the crops that her father grew. “Chickens, pigs, cows, corn, peanuts, cotton, popcorn, turnips, irish and sweet potatoes, every green you can think of, cabbage, eggplant, lettuce, carrots, radish, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, beans, pinto, red and yellow snap, cucumbers, onions, peaches, plums, pecans, figs, pears,” she goes on and on. She mentioned that her aunt had the geese, ducks and guineas and another relative raised goats.
Now that she has retired after a successful career as a teacher in Michigan she has returned home to Natchitoches. When she returned, her mom was still growing a garden. The memories of having fresh produce flooded back and once again she is putting her hands in the soil. She asked her husband to build her some raised beds and her nephews helped put down the newspaper, fill them with compost and then pile on the mulch to help reduce weeds. Her hands are back in the soil and her bounty is being shared with family and friends. Most importantly, she is passing on her love of gardening to the next generation.
Judy does not grow her fruits and vegetables to sell but more and more people are realizing there is money to be made through the production of organic fruits and vegetables. You don’t need a lot of space to be successful either. Virginia State University is using the 43,560 project to educate beginning farmers and touts it as one of their more successful programs. Yes, that is grossing $43,560 from an acre of land or more specifically $1 per square foot. This is one of the programs Campti Field of Dreams will emulate at the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Farm to educate beginning farmers, ranchers and value-added producers.
Campti Field of Dreams is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in rural communities through economic development. In addition to operating the Campti Historic Museum, we manage the Campti and Jackson Square Community Gardens and Marketplaces, and promote local artists with our artist showcase. The Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Farm is our newest initiative to facilitate local food production and agri-businesses in the Red River area. The timing is right! In the July edition of Southern SAWG (Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) it noted that Louisiana passed two pieces of “Good Food Legislation.” Sitting on the governor’s desk for signature is SB 184 which increases the “small purchase threshold” from $25,000 to match the federal limit, facilitating more “Farm to School” sales. This opens a whole new channel to small farmers. The federal limit is currently $150,000 which means that farmers will not have to compete with large corporations in the formal bidding process to sell to schools. HB 761 Urban Ag Incentive Zone Bill creates incentives for landowners to facilitate local food production throughout Louisiana and supports many of the current initiatives to improve our food security and economy through agri-business.
If you are interested in learning more, join us for the upcoming USDA NRCS Conservation and Soil Health Field Day on July 27th from 4 – 8 pm at the Campti Historic Museum, 211 Edenborn Street, Campti, LA 71411. The event will feature Dr. Mike Lindsey, the State Soil Scientist, Chris Coreil, State Agronomist and Chris Ebel, Area Rangeland Management Specialist. You will learn about:
- The best soil to grow your fruits, vegetables and flowers
- Grass, legumes and forbs for grazing livestock
- Conservation measures on cropland
- Financial and technical support available through USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency
Refreshments for this event are being sponsored by the Louisiana Land Bank who will be on hand to share information on their programs including: YBS for Young, Beginning and Small Farmers. For more information, you may visit our website, http://www.camptifieldofdreams.org or call Donna Isaacs, Executive Director, at 318-332-7791.
For more information about USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, contact Dexter Sapp, (318) 473-7688.