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Debris Piles

Driving along the bayou from New Iberia to Houma felt like driving through a different country. It’s easy to keep your head in the hole and keep your blinders on, especially when we all have our to-do lists, goals, and bucket lists to focus on. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we probably prefer to see the world in the comfort of our bubble. It’s easy to let ourselves believe that this level of devastation, this length of recovery, doesn’t happen in the US. You hear about it everywhere on the news, and sure we have natural disasters in the states, but it doesn’t last, it doesn’t stay devastated…right? We rebuild- bigger, better, faster.

But over 2 months after Hurricane Ida, the images are on a rerun loop along the roads…I can’t help but wonder how these residents wake up day after day to see their whole world in ruins. Combined with a shortage of money, supplies or labor that we have seen across the states, it is near impossible to rebuild their homes at the current moment…yet you see these families cleaning up brush, repairing and tarping roofs, and just taking another step forward. 

They have been forced to stop and slow down in the hustle and bustle we call life. They have real *cow manure* to deal with rather than being ultra-focused on “what’s next.” While society chases after the latest fads, milestones, and TikTok stars, so much of what they once knew now lies in debris piles.

I try to take it all in, let it sink down to my bones, and reflect on what truly matters, on what is going to be left standing at the very end, on who I am at the innermost part of my being and not who I want to be in 5, 10, 15 years. Do I live with gratitude on a regular basis? Where is the chip on my shoulder? Am I enjoying and appreciating the present or am I always looking at what can or will be down the road?

In a sense, this is part of why I love agriculture because we are connected- and not just through our phones. We must be in the moment but aware of the future. We have to accept that some things are simply out of our hands and our world is not without limits. And I don’t know a farmer that could make it through the tough times if they didn’t derive hope in the simplest yet most miraculous things whether be a plant taking root or a cow calving. A farmer has to go and feed their animals and take that next step forward just like those residents in Louisiana…even on their worst day, despite ice, snow, rain, and heat, regardless if someone showed up to work or if the truck broke down. 

Passion is Art

I like to think we’re better people when we put value not just on ourselves and material things…maybe it’s faith, relationships, animals, a greater good or mission. I believe we’re better then because it gives us something to wake up for, fight for, live for, love for, risk for. We saw this emulated in Ricky at Gonsoulin Farms in the way he has gotten involved in his county and state government to be a voice for agriculture. I recognized it in Ben at the Lafourche Sugar Mill in his commitment to do good by his growers even though he was unable to farm himself. I admire it in many of my cohort colleagues, whether be John soaking up every answer to his questions with a belief in a better way of farming or Amy for being willing to have tough conversations about mental health in farming communities.

Yet, as humans, myself included, we sometimes forget the why we’re doing it, the what we’re doing… and instead find ourselves putting and finding value (and stress) in things that at the end of the day are just debris piles…

In agriculture, we have this unique privilege of seeing the whole picture
what is behind the scenes.

However, in many ways, people in agriculture live and maybe see things a little differently. In agriculture, we have this unique privilege of seeing the whole picture—what is behind the scenes. We are equally forced to ‘stop and smell the roses’ tied to the limits of weather and planting seasons as we are to seek solutions to future challenges from climate change to labor and urban sprawl. 

Not a single farmer goes into agriculture for the money or the workload and certainly not because it is “easy.” Farming is laborious, sweat-inducing work that will test your limits, your faith, and your why. You can’t find that kind of why in a debris pile—you find it in their mission of feeding the growing population, in the goal of giving their family a legacy and deep roots (literally), in the love of their livestock and livelihood, in the belief that we should be connected to where our food comes from, and in the vision of being a good steward of the land, protecting it for future generations.

From the family running the shrimp dock (man can they do a good low country boil) to Ricky at Gonsoulin Farms growing sugarcane and Christian raising crawfish in his rice fields at Richard Farms, you see this connection, this passion for what they do that gives them the ability to be present while still preparing for the future. These farmers face their share of hardships and challenges, but they have a belief in and a strength drawn from their life’s work that is so much more than a typical job. They reverberate that strength- moving forward when rain and cold temperatures threaten a crop, when equipment breaks down in the middle of harvest, when they can’t find the labor to get the job done, when others run away from the sweat equity of agriculture—just as the residents of Louisiana reflect that strength and hope to look past the debris piles when their world has come crashing down by a storm. 

Maybe that clinging to our roots and having the faith to take that next step forward against odds is human nature, an old instinct we revert to when the distractions and hustle of our modern world are eliminated, an instinct that our agricultural communities are a little closer to.

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