Growing Local Produce Theme of Annual Ag Expo Seminar

By Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter 

LSU AgCenter horticulturist Kerry Heafner discusses the local food movement with attendees at the Ag Expo Spring Gardening Seminar in West Monroe on Jan. 14. (Photo by Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter)   

LSU AgCenter horticulturist Kerry Heafner discusses the local food movement with attendees at the Ag Expo Spring Gardening Seminar in West Monroe on Jan. 14. (Photo by Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter)   

WEST MONROE, La. – The idea of growing food or at least getting food locally seems to be more than just a passing trend, according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Kerry Heafner.

That was a major topic of discussion during the seventh annual Ag Expo gardening seminar held at the West Monroe Convention Center Jan. 14.

“Throughout the nation there is a push to get food from the farm to table as fast as possible,” he said. “But the local food movement seemed to be slow in coming to north Louisiana so we thought an emphasis on locally-produced food would be a good theme for the seminar this year.

Themes for the seminar have typically focused on some historical facet of gardening, he said.

“Last year we focused on gardening trends, but this year we decided to look at what we could do to enhance the local food movement,” he said.   

The speakers for this year’s seminar included John Cotton Dean, director of regional innovation for the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA); David Young, founder and president of Capstone, a non-profit organization in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans; and Judy Barrett, founding editor and publisher of “Homegrown: Good Sense Organic Gardening.”

“The goal here today is to inspire the folks in the room to build and develop a strong food movement,” Dean said.

He reminded the audience that whether they buy food or grow their own, they are a part of the food network. 

“Our goal is to get everyone to work together to build that really strong food economy, whether it means getting more local food into grocery stores, hospitals, schools or into workplaces,” Dean said.

In order to make that happen, there has to be a distributor involved and there has to be an understanding of what that distributor needs and when he needs it, he said.

Young’s organization, Capstone, operates on 20 lots in New Orleans and two acres in Plaquemines Parish where he grows fruit and vegetables that are shared with residents of the community.

“We grow food on vacant lots that were previously blighted properties and share it with those in need at no or reduced cost,” he said.

Capstone also has 60 bee hives and sells Capstone Raw Honey as a revenue source.

Young‘s first trip to New Orleans was in 2009 to help rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

“From that experience, I realized there was a greater need than just a physical house,” he said.

Barrett, who lives near Austin, Texas, where she writes about gardening, has been involved in growing plants since she was a child.

“My dad dug up a little plot for me to plant flowers, and that’s where it began,” she said.

Barrett’s love for gardening led her to become a writer about gardening topics and a passion for helping people learn how much fun gardening can be.

“I just feel that we all should know how to feed ourselves, and I want people to know that growing your own food is easy,” she said.

Barrett sees gardening as win-win, where you can produce food that’s free of chemicals, you can get exercise and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.

“I started out as an English teacher and just sort of drifted into writing about the joy and benefits of gardening,” she said. 

Tina Kendrick, a Shreveport Master Gardener, attended the seminar to become more proficient.

“This seminar really appealed to me because of the Farm to Table initiative and the work that I do with the community gardens in Shreveport,” she said.