Mary Tutwiler

Organic gardens popping up everywhere

by Mary Tutwiler

You know organic gardening has finally become mainstream when, within one week, 60 Minutes broadcasts a segment on both the Slow Food movement and farmer’s market guru and chef Alice Waters, Michelle Obama announces she will plant an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn, and Sugarland Elementary builds up composted soil in their raised vegetable beds.

Actually Sugarland Elementary in New Iberia was way ahead of the curve. Of course, the school had the help of some heavy hitters when it comes to gardening. UL horticulture professor, former head of parks and recreation in New Iberia and long time nurseryman Jim Foret, former Iberia Parish Library community relations director and Optimist Club president Susan Hester Edmunds, and lemonade queen and community activist Elizabeth Little are an unstoppable force when they have a project in their sights. They have been responsible for butterfly gardens at the Main Library, live oaks planted along Main Street, pocket parks all over New Iberia, Arbor Day celebrations, founding the Live Oak Festival in New Iberia, planting trees at schools in Iberia Parish, and now providing the expertise and a lot of sweat equity to put in a vegetable, fruit and flower garden at Sugarland.

“Elizabeth and I came at it from two very different directions,” says Edmunds. “She was concerned that children didn’t understand where their food came from, and I was worried that kids didn’t know how to go outside and play anymore.” Sugarland Elementary had the grounds to accommodate a garden and the faculty was excited about the project. Edmunds recruited their long time partner in rogue landscaping. “We had the ideas, Jim has the expertise,” she says of Foret.

They began building beds in the fall, and planted an initial crop of sweet peas, Edmunds’s favorite flower. Last week, a group of students and volunteers put in a summer garden: eggplant, okra, tomatoes, bell pepper, squash, cucumbers, watermelon, basil, rosemary, thyme, dill, sunflowers and zinnias. Kids run out at recess to see what’s popping up out of the soil. Lowe’s was so impressed with the effort, they awarded a $5,000 Toolbox for Education grant to the project, one of 1,000 given nationwide.

The sweet peas are in full fragrant bloom today. “Of course,” says Edmunds. “It’s the first day of spring. You should go see them and smell them. Happy Spring.”