Johnny Morgan | 5/18/2018 8:41:58 PM
(05/18/18) HAMMOND, La. — Members of the Louisiana Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association toured the Faust Farm in Amite City and the Poche Family Farm in Independence May 16 to share ideas and gain valuable information.
LSU AgCenter fruit and vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot said the purpose of the tour is to provide a networking opportunity for the growers.
“We know that the growers are a really small group who are self-sufficient,” she said. “But sometimes one may run low on tomatoes early in the season, and this gives the chance for them to meet their fellow growers who may be able to help them out.”
Sometimes they may trade what they have for what they don’t have, such as squash for cucumbers, she said.
“Another thing that happens is new ideas are shared or generated while looking at how someone is doing the same thing you are, but with a slight twist,” she said.
The tour began at the Faust Farm, where owner Natalie Faust-Jones discussed the operation and showed the different vegetables she’s growing.
“We are growing produce on 60 acres, which is actually about 10 acres in production per season,” she said.
Jones said they specialize in bell peppers, but strawberries are their largest crop.
“We also grow eggplant, hydroponic lettuce and cabbage,” she said.
This farm is a second-generation, family-owned business that was established in 1985.
The group next travelled to the Poche Family Farm, where Albert Poche, his wife Charise and two children market their produce mainly to restaurants in New Orleans.
Poche said he started the farm about five years ago after spending time on a Mennonite farm in Pennsylvania, learning some of the techniques that he’s using now.
The Poche farm is more of an organic operation, where being good stewards of the land is the most important part of the operation, he said.
“We are a sustainable operation,” Poche said. “We don’t use harsh chemicals, and we make our own fertilizer from seaweed.”
Poche said when he started the farm it was overgrown, and he would cut a tree a day to get it into shape. He said he cut 75 trees.
“I started the farm as a way to leave a legacy for my family,” Poche said. He incorporates some new technologies on the farm, such as high tunnel production.
Faust-Jones tends to lean heavily on bell peppers and strawberries as her go-to crop. The Poche’s have more variety in their operation, which includes chickens for egg production.
The two operations are good examples of how diversity can be used to increase yields, as both make extensive use of greenhouses as well as crops planted on rows, Fontenot said.
AgCenter food safety specialist Achyut Adhikari said the Good Agricultural Practices, or GAPs, are the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations for the safe production, packaging, handling and storage of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We now have funds to help growers to get GAP certification,” Adhikari said. “We have been doing the training around the state.”
Adhikari said training is suspended now because growers are busy in the field. The program will resume in the fall.
Lester Williams, of Pointe Coupee Parish, made quite a drive to be a part of the tour. His operation consists of traditional vegetables he mainly sells at farmers markets.
“I’m glad I came because I’ve actually learned a lot of new things that I would have missed out on,” Williams said.
Kristen Wesley, produce coordinator for Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans, said she attended the tour as a way to find another source of produce.
“I’m here doing a little research, so I wanted to come out here and meet some the growers and to see their operations,” she said.
The third stop was at the AgCenter Hammond Research Station, where the group had lunch and viewed the tea, olive and fig production areas.
The AgCenter recently became involved with the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium for work with strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, Fontenot said.
Natalie Faust-Jones explains her operation to Louisiana Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association members who toured Faust Farm in Amite City on May 16. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
Charise Poche discusses sustainability and organic farming practices to Louisiana Fruit and Vegetable Grower Association members on May 16. She, her husband Albert and two children operate the Poche Family Farm in Independence. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter researcher Yan Chen, left, leads a tour of the specialty crops at the Hammond Research Station. Louisiana Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association members visited the station as part of their tour of vegetable farms on May 16. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter