May 26, 2021

Supporting and Sustaining Louisiana's Agricultral Economy

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BREADA is on a mission to build a healthy and strong local food system, while increasing sustainability of independent, local, Louisiana based farms.

Agriculture has traditionally dominated Louisiana’s economic history.  The state’s abundance of natural resources provides a diverse range of commodities, from sugarcane to sweet potatoes, crawfish to cattle, and so much more in between. Agriculture has traditionally dominated Louisiana’s economic history. The state’s abundance of natural resources provides a diverse range of commodities, from sugarcane to sweet potatoes, crawfish to cattle, and so much more in between. However, operating a small farm is hard work with obstacles that vary from year to year. In fact, only 2,075 of Louisiana's 30,000 farms are actually growing fruits and vegetables, while others grow commodity crops that can be shipped worldwide. Big River Economic and Agricultural Development Alliance (BREADA) exists to provide support to the 7% of Louisiana specialty farmers by providing opportunities for them to connect with the community and bring fresh, local food to the Baton Rouge area.

“BREADA is dedicated to supporting small, family farms and connecting our communities with fresh, local food,” says Darlene Adams Rowland, Executive Director.

Started as a small group of farmers recruited by Chris Campany as part of his master’s thesis under LSU Landscape Architecture Professor, Suzanne Turner, Red Stick Farmers Market began in 1996. Soon after its first market in the fall of that year, BREADA was officially recognized as a nonprofit and began its work to increase economic opportunities for small farmers.

Since then, BREADA has relocated the market to a dynamic space on the corner 5th and Main in downtown Baton Rouge that serves as both an incubator for small, local businesses and a gathering place for the community. Now, over 40 farmers, fishers, and food artisans from 14 parishes around the state come together every Saturday in the heart of the capital city.

“At the market, you really get to see what Louisiana is about,” says Darlene. “You’re able to see local farmers bringing in what’s fresh, sharing their stories, providing recipes, and there’s just nothing else like the connections you find there.”

In conjunction with the market, BREADA works to support not only the farmers, but also members of the community. The Red Stick Rewards program increases the buying power for fresh produce by low-income families while also providing additional income to the farmer through a dollar-for-dollar match funded in partnership with Louisiana Healthcare Connections. Additionally, BREADA has come together with several local partners to provide the Red Stick Mobile Market to those with limited access to fresh foods in the North and Old South Baton Rouge areas. This opportunity allows farmers to expand their reach and client base, while also bringing in fresh, new, and exciting foods to the people of those areas.

“Farming is a tough job,” stresses Darlene, “Part of what we do at BREADA is to find ways to support and sustain those local, family farms.”

Farm operators in Louisiana are some of the poorest in the nation. The average net worth of farms in Louisiana is around 40 percent lower than the national average, with income to farmers averaging $12,500, three times less than the average across the country. Outside of the economic struggles of a small farm, natural disasters and ever-changing climate are daily stressors. In 2005, following the destruction of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, BREADA established the Louisiana Small Farm Survival Fund, the first of its kind in the state, to aid small farms and seafood enterprises that had been affected by the storms. Since then, the funds have gone on to provide critical relief to farmers in the event of a storm, flood, or fire. The funds directly support independent, local farmers and fishers that are often too small to receive grants or loans due to eligibility requirements of the USDA.

Another concern for the farming community is the generational shift away from rural areas and more traditional ways of life. According to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service census, the number of farms in our state has dropped 9% and the percentage of farm-related jobs has dropped in have within the past decade. This shift is something BREADA is working on.

“Louisiana is a state that is so rich in natural resources,” says Darlene. “Part of what our work is to preserve farmland and that way of life.”

With initiatives like Red Stick Sprouts and Farm to Table Tops BREADA is working to educate and inform youth about the agriculture and importance of locally sourced food. Through Red Stick Sprouts, children 2 to 12 can learn more about where their food comes from through fun, food-related activities at the farmers market that connects them to local farmers and agriculture. To date, over 2,900 kids have joined the Sprouts program and have been empowered to make their own healthy food choices. Similarly, Farm to Table Tops is a multi-disciplinary summer experience that introduces and educates children about Louisiana’s local food system through artistic enterprises. The program includes farm tours, cooking and nutrition classes, and hands-on art education.

But children aren’t the only ones who benefit from BREADA’s home-grown initiatives, people of all ages and walks of life can be seen participating and enjoying a Saturday morning at the market. Darlene and her team encourage everyone to experience a farmers’ market and support not only the farmers, but also those organizations making a difference in our community.

Darlene’s advice on helping is simple. She says, “Come out! Connect with people. Talk to a farmer. Buy local from our farmers, fishers, and food artisans. That’s how you make a difference.”

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