For a moment, close your eyes and imagine “home”. What comes to mind? For me, it’s a good meal and going back for seconds. It’s swapping stories. It’s talking about the weather. It’s feeling included. It’s feeling comfortable and completely at ease with yourself and your company.
That’s the agriculture community in Louisiana.
Every producer we met throughout the week greeted us with a smile and was excited to tell us all about their business and their family. The enthusiasm was infectious.
Each farmer had a story to tell; a story of successes and failures that brought them to where they were. You learn very quickly that farmers in Louisiana learn to roll with the punches. Just like any job worth doing, there will always be highs and lows. Producers like Angela Portier had an optimistic outlook that was inspiring. In spite of being hit hard by Hurricane Ida, everyone on her team picked back up and got back to work. During our trip, everyone was genuinely excited to meet us, even as evidence of the hurricane was everywhere we looked. I was humbled.
I enjoyed every stop of our trip and especially enjoy hearing someone speak to their passions. Historian Dr. Shane Bernard and his graduate student spoke to our group about the rich history of Avery Island, the home of Tabasco hot sauce. The island is actually a salt dome and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Before the island was settled by the family of its namesake, Native Americans lived there and would use the salt for trading with neighboring tribes. We also learned more about the Avery and McIlhenny families and how they built a family fortune. As we toured the facility, it was clear the company prides itself in tradition. They don’t mess with a good thing and beyond efficiencies in technology, they largely produce their red pepper sauce the same way today as they did in the 1800’s. Folks in Louisiana have a special way of honoring the past while staying current and relevant in a changing world.
Hardworking. Proud, yet humble. Creative, yet practical. Unrelenting, unwavering, faithful – these are ways I would describe the people we met during our trip. It sounds like a lot of the people here at home that I look up to. My granny and papaw, their brothers and sisters, and my mom and dad had to scrap and work hard to provide for their families, but they never lost their faith.
This experience pushed us all to immerse ourselves in the unfamiliar, but somehow it felt very familiar. When I asked sugar cane producer Ricky Gonsoulin what it meant to him to be able to work with his brother and son each day on the farm he only said, “It’s everything.” I think that’s a statement that resonates with all of us. What’s all this for if not for our family? It is everything.