Boxes of vegetables are ready for pickup at the Red Stick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge. For several months, the regular farmers market setup was converted to a drive-thru format. Photo by Randy LaBauve
Local produce farmers have been unsung heroes during the coronavirus crisis — continuing to safely provide a steady supply of fresh, healthy produce, despite severe restrictions for public safety.
“The farmers markets and farmers are adapting,” said Carl Motsenbocker, LSU AgCenter horticulture professor and director of the Louisiana Farm to School Program. “Most of our horticultural farmers are entrepreneurs, and they see this as an opportunity.”
Allison Guidroz and her husband, Grant Guidroz, had taken agricultural classes together at LSU. The first time either of them had grown anything was in an organic gardening course with Motsenbocker. Now, they grow vegetables, herbs and edible flowers for a living not far from the LSU campus.
“We were lucky to have already launched a pre-ordered farm share program,” said Annie Moore, co-owner of River Queen Greens in New Orleans. “It was a relatively smooth market transition from restaurant sales to 100 percent online sales.”
The AgCenter Farm to School Program and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry have developed a directory of local farms and businesses to help consumers find fresh foods near their homes. The resources can be found online at http://www.ldaf.state.la.us/covid-19/ under the “LA Farm Food Map and Directory” tab. Randy LaBauve
Different varieties of Treasure Island ornamental sweet potatoes offer a variety of foliage presentations in mixed containers with other vegetables and herbs. Photo courtesy of FitzGerald Nurseries, Kilkenny, Ireland
Hobby growers have a new edible option for their ornamental gardens by way of a Louisiana favorite: the sweet potato. Developed by LSU AgCenter breeders in collaboration with FitzGerald Nurseries, of Kilkenny, Ireland, the sweet potato selections are marketed in North America through Concept Plants and in Europe by FitzGerald as Treasure Island sweet potatoes.
The breakthrough ornamentals are the first edible and ornamental sweet potatoes to hit the market and were recently recognized with a Green Thumb Award in the Edible Plants category from the Direct Gardening Association.
“Our intention was to develop a series of sweet potato plants with everything from white and orange to purple flesh, and we really tried to capture a lot of different looks with foliage,” said LSU AgCenter plant breeder Don La Bonte.
While Louisiana consumers have long recognized sweet potatoes for their versatility in favorites like fries, pies and sides, the edible ornamental varieties also provide nutritious leaves for colorful and tasty additions to salads, stir-fries and smoothies.
The tuberous sweet potato root is widely considered a nutritional superfood as a good source of vitamins B and C and is high in fiber, iron, calcium and antioxidants.
The edible leaves of the Treasure Island varieties are also high in lutein, a carotenoid found in high quantities in spinach, kale and carrots, La Bonte said.
The plants are easy to grow, perform well over a wide range of growing conditions and offer the added bonus of an edible root harvest in the fall, he said. Karol Osborne
Lance Nacio makes a sale of fish to a consumer on April 9 in Lafayette. Nacio, a third-generation fisherman, from Montegut, said the direct sales are a boost for his struggling business. Photo by Bruce Schultz
Fisherman Lance Nacio, of Montegut, Louisiana, is trying to keep his struggling seafood business going, one sale at a time. With curtailed restaurant operations during the pandemic, he and other fishers have had difficulty selling their catch.
Nacio, a third-generation fisherman, set up a pop-up sale in the parking lot of Randol’s Restaurant in Lafayette, which was promoted on the Louisiana Direct Seafood website and on Facebook.
“It’s keeping us afloat. It’s opening our mind on new ways to move product,” he said.
Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent, said the direct sales facilitated by Louisiana Direct Seafood is allowing seafood businesses to continue cash flow, although it’s considerably less than the revenue before the pandemic.
Consumers can buy products from Louisiana fishermen and have them delivered to their homes by shopping on the website at https://louisianadirectseafoodshop.com/shop/. Bruce Schultz
Asian giant hornet Vespa mandarinia. Photo by Matthew Bertone, North Carolina State University
LSU AgCenter experts have been getting inquiries from the public about Asian giant hornets, but it’s not believed the insects have spread to Louisiana. Some calls have been made by people who suspect they have seen one of the hornets that turn out to be other insects.
“There are a lot of things that look like them,” said AgCenter public health entomologist Kristen Healy.
Some inquiries have included photos, but they have turned out to be common insects such as large yellow jackets, cicada killers and paper wasps. The yellow-and-black Asian giant hornets are up to 2 inches long.
Healy said the wasps are larger than most flying insects in the U.S., and they have a bigger stinger with slightly more venom.
“But it’s not going to be any more risk to humans beyond what we experience with hornets and wasps now,” she said.
The biggest threat is to honeybees. Healy explained that the hornets have been called “murder hornets” because they will invade a honeybee colony and kill tens of thousands of adults in just a few hours. The hornets then relocate young immature bees to underground hives where the hornets use the bees for a food source. Bruce Schultz
Second-grader Piper Jones, a member of 4-H Cloverbuds in Richland Parish, displays cupcakes in a virtual cooking contest.
Because connecting with friends and participating with peers in learning activities is important for youth even when shuttered at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, LSU AgCenter 4-H agents are recreating 4-H Club experiences virtually to supplement classroom learning at home.
“Now that students are completing their school assignments from home, online or virtual activities are providing opportunities for them to engage with their peers while contributing to their 4-H project work,” said Janet Fox, AgCenter 4-H Youth Development department head.
Since most parish 4-H programs offer special awards for outstanding members based on participation in or completion of certain projects, many virtual events have been adapted to meet those criteria. Online pet shows, talent competitions, and photography and art contests are just a few of the programs that are motivating youth to interact virtually.
Even cooking contests have found a place online with weekly themed challenges emphasizing breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack recipes.
Richland Parish 4-H agent Joanna Strong first posted food safety tips and healthy recipes on Facebook, then encouraged 4-H Club members to prepare their favorite dish and submit a photo for the competition.
“Internet services are an issue, especially in rural areas where high-speed service is limited and may not be available for many families, but we are finding ways to work around that,” Strong said. Karol Osborne
An anonymous donor has provided money to the LSU AgCenter Sugar Research Station in St. Gabriel to make possible a significant upgrade at the sucrose research lab. Jeff Hoy, resident coordinator at the station, said the donation is being matched by the American Sugar Cane League, providing a total of $200,000 to make improvements to what has been called the heart of sugarcane research.
“The sucrose research lab at the station is used to estimate all the yield data from all the tests that are being conducted at the station,” Hoy said, adding that those tests include all varieties being developed in the breeding program and all other associated research for things like pathology, fertility and entomology used in generating yield data.
“This lab is critical to the mission of the research station,” Hoy said. “The technology that we have been using has about reached its useful life, and we’re in need of some new equipment.” Johnny Morgan