Marcus Descant is an old-school naturalist, well-versed in many ecological disciplines. His company, The Urban Naturalist, located near downtown Lafayette, offers everything from edible and native landscaping to healthier pest control and cleaning supplies to, recently, insects that can help you both compost and catch a sacalait.
|Photos by Denny Culbert|
The business is situated on a quarter-acre lot comprising raised beds and container gardens filled with seasonal herbs and produce, free-ranging heritage chickens, a greenhouse, composting and bioconversion bins, and more. Inside his newly opened store, he sells some of the most environmentally friendly cleaning products available (he is the only business between Baton Rouge and Texas that carries Better Life cleaning products). He also sells effective pest control products that help to eradicate rodents, mosquitoes and fleas from the home without toxic and persistent side effects.
In 2013, Descant and his assistant, Grant Caplan, began applying the knowledge of vermicomposting they gained with red wigglers, a type of earthworm, to black soldier flies, a native fly species and an efficient composter. Using a technique inspired by an entomologist from Acadiana, Descant and Caplan developed an effective way of cultivating the species. Not uncharacteristic of Descant, he and his colleague soon began experimenting with ways to fully utilize the species, specifically the black soldier fly larvae he and Caplan were producing en masse.
“Grant has a background in design,” says Descant. “We began designing a facility made mostly from recycled objects to convert food waste into millions of black soldier fly larvae. This insect has some amazing traits; for one, it lives for a very long time in this prepupation state, three to six months without food or water. It contains lots of calcium, making it a great food for reptiles, fish and birds.”
Not only is the larvae good feed for ectotherms and birds, but it turns out that the larva makes a hearty fishing bait. The product, named Black Market Bait, has a thick, black exoskeleton and persists on a hook much longer than worms. Descant found that sacalait and brim love the larvae, and fisherman are following suit. The little segmented bugs are incredibly resilient in the field. In addition to staying on a hook longer than traditional live bait, they come in a small package and do not need refrigeration like the popular red wiggler worms that need to be kept cold, fed and in soil. Descant and Caplan are also looking for other uses for the larvae to add to their sustainable, healthy repertoire of products.
“I began this company in 2011, just selling heritage chickens, and planting clover as an alternative fertilizer in lawns,” says Descant. “In 2012, I added lots of plants to the product lineup: locally grown herbs, vegetables, wildlife attractants and fruit trees. I also began farming red wigglers, turning food waste into mostly more red wigglers. We try to offer examples throughout the grounds to show some edible and sustainable alternatives in gardening, enhancing the experience of choosing plants and other products.”
A visit to the business leaves patrons inspired about the potential of a home lot. Descant is a self-taught scientist and has learned what plants and techniques succeed and fail in south Louisiana; he has plenty of helpful ideas and tips to share with the newly emboldened or the seasoned botanist.
“Marcus has been providing Backyard Harvest with local, sustainable plants and products for two years now,” says Justin Price, owner of the environmentally friendly landscaping business. “He is an important part of Lafayette’s local foods movement and a valuable friend to the savvy gardener.”
“I try to carry products that could revolutionize the way we handle problems,” says Descant. “It’s all a throwback to a more utilitarian time, while trying to integrate the best choices for designing something nearly as beautiful and functional as only nature can create.”
Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland ecologist and past president of Acadiana Food Circle (www.AcadianaFoodCircle.org), a community-based nonprofit that connects local food producers to consumers.