All Growin' Up

by Walter Pierce

Get your veggie garden on! Get your veggie garden on! By Tyler F. Thigpen / PHOTOS BY tRACIE fONTENOT

Friday, Aug. 2, 2013

In South Louisiana vegetable gardens are as much of a household staple as a well-seasoned black iron pot. Gardening, like canning and preserving, is a Southern tradition that not only fulfills the need for food, but many outlets, including social, recreational and health.

"For my family, it's important to me that my daughter knows where food comes from. In today's pre-packaged, processed culture, I want to instill in her the values of hard work," says Valerie Broussard Boston, a mother and a Ph.D. student at UL Lafayette. "When I was a kid, we always had a garden, and watching food grow and harvesting it was a wondrous thing. I want my daughter to know that feeling. Also, it's cost-effective and it's your own edible science project."

For some, peace of mind is an important reason for buying locally produced foods and growing edibles. Factory scandals and food-borne illnesses resulting in recalls and sickness have become more frequent throughout the world, causing an increase in the number of people consuming locally grown and raised foods.

Regardless of the reasons for gardening, urban garden plots now provide 15 percent of the world's food. The rapidly growing slow foods movement, including initiatives like Michelle Obama's White House garden and the Grow Food, Not Lawns campaign, is contributing to the popularity of backyard gardening. And like consumers, even restaurants such as The Saint Street Inn and Social Southern Table & Bar are planting and harvesting and purchasing herbs, peppers, and more for use in their kitchens.

"Having local produce on our menus means that items are fresh, usually picked the afternoon before or the morning of delivery," says Ashley Locklear, forager for the Link Restaurant Group and longtime local foods supporter. "It is also about flavor. Not only does local arugula have a spicier, more peppery bite than its conventionally shipped counterpart, it also means the product was harvested at its peak. The quality of product being picked at its peak will hold up better to all the different stages of preparation before reaching [the] plate."

But growing produce can be time-consuming and sometimes difficult and frustrating, so new options have become available for those without the know-how, time or drive to nurture a garden. In the past few years, several locally owned businesses specializing in sustainable gardening resources been established in Acadiana.

"There is plenty of space in our own yards and properties to grow food," says Justin Price, owner of Backyard Harvest, a sustainable gardening and landscaping company in Lafayette. "We need to get over the idea that food comes from somewhere else and realize we can and should do it ourselves and support local producers."

Backyard Harvest, established in January 2011, is the perfect service for those lacking a green thumb by providing guidance for every stage of the gardening process from concept and establishment to harvest and cleanup.

"We offer raised bed vegetable garden installation with irrigation, garden consulting, rework/renovate existing beds for ornamental or edible, planting and consulting for edible landscapes and wildlife habitats, along with complete landscape installation and maintenance for residential or small commercial," says Price.

Price is passionate about growing food, a trait common among the other sustainable gardening services in the community, including Arcadius Acres, Mark Hernandez Gardens, Sankofa Earth Farms and The Urban Naturalist.

"Growing our own food gives us the most nutritious vegetables and fruits," says Price. "It reduces dependency on the industrialized food system that is harming human health and the environment. It brings us back in touch with some essential things in life - where food comes from, the mini ecosystems that support our food supply and generally being outside and getting in touch with nature. Not to mention it is a healthier pastime than watching TV."

Tyler F. Thigpen is a wetland ecologist and president of Acadiana Food Circle (, a community-based nonprofit that connects local food producers to consumers.