By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

Wow! That’s all we have to say about how firmly communities in New Iberia, Jenerette and Delcambre have embraced hydroponic gardening. The towers are the backbone of three new co-ops in the region (The Iberia Community Garden Co-op, Sugar City Growers Co-op, Heirloom Produce Cooperative ), which have become some popular, a waiting list now tracks residents anxious to be a part of it all. That’s why we are so proud that dollars from our Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program allowed these co-ops to double in size. On Friday, we attended a couple of ribbon cutting ceremonies to celebrate this amazing expansion — including a new greenhouse, new towers and other support equipment.

It wasn’t that long ago when this area had so few producers, community leaders realized they had little to support the new farmers markets they wanted to put in place. The hydroponic towers, with their powerful production ability, helped fill that void.

“We were just doing it to fix a problem,” said Marti Harrell, a project leader for our Challenge Grant funded West End Health and Wellness program and also a special projects manager with the Iberia Industrial Development Foundation (IDF). “And we discovered, in the process, we were on the cutting edge of a global movement!”

The new towers produce everything from cucumbers to peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, squash, zucchini and more… Community volunteers tend to the garden and can take home some of what their tower produces. The excess is then sold at the Delcambre Seafood and Farmers Market, the Best Life Iberia Flash Markets, the Jeanerette Farmers Market, and even a new weekly pop-up market at Jeanertte’s Cooper Street Cafe (the cafe also uses the greens produced from the nearby Sugar City Growers Co-op – literally just a stone’s throw away – in their recipes).

The spike in production volume has most recently spurred the idea for a food hub to serve those most critically in need — in Iberia’s west end.  Ebony NeNe Williams, who grew up in New Iberia, is leading an effort to turn a former night club into a food hub, accessible to west end residents who lack transportation to the markets or co-ops. The hub is mostly being built on “sweat equity,” Williams said, and donations through a Go Fund Me account (for more information, click here: LuLu’s Food Hub & Urban Farm). More on this amazing springboard project in a future blog post…

“But this is all about way more than just fresh foods,” noted Fran Henderson, IDF board president. “It’s about getting the community together, about the growers coming together. It’s a bond. And we’re doing our best to keep it going.”

As they say locally, great things are happening in “da Berry” (and surrounding areas). And we’re so grateful to be part of it all.

West End