ALEXANDRIA, LA (WVUE) - They have been planting crops on the Inglewood Plantation for more than 180 years. The plantation home is one of the few remaining Antebellum structures along the Red River near Alexandria. It was spared by Union troops during the Civil War.
"The story is there were midwives that lived in those homes," said Lee Weeks of Inglewood Farms. "While their spouses and children were off fighting and those midwives would take care of any soldier, whether they were Confederate or Union. And so they took care of a Union officer who left the word to not destroy that home because they had saved his life."
Lee Weeks is the Operations Manager at Inglewood Farms, now the largest certified organic farm in Louisiana.
"And some of the family members (who) had homes here really didn't want to be in the midst of all the chemicals being sprayed and used. And they had a real desire to protect the land," said Weeks.
Being certified organic requires a three-year transition away from the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It's a costly venture, that Weeks says usually results in the loss of 25 percent of the crop. Organic farming is challenging in the hot, wet climate.
"Bug pressures and fungus pressures and all the things for being deep in the South," said Weeks.
There is still spraying, but it is done with natural oils like canola.
"It just deters, it doesn't kill the pests, but it deters them," said Weeks.
The secret sauce that makes farming in this part of Louisiana so productive is the dirt. The topsoil in this area is six feet deep.
"Those rivers would flood over the banks and it would bring that silt to over here, over thousands of years," said Weeks.
To help keep the farm in business, Inglewood participates in CSA which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Customers pay a subscription fee upfront which entitles them to a box of fresh vegetables, one a week for 12 weeks during the spring and summer.
"Our goal is to give them the very best of what we're growing," said Weeks.
He admits that organic farming is a bit of a tough sell at first. But fruits and vegetables are growing in popularity with the interest in farm-to-market produce.
"The theory is the healthier the soil, the healthier the plant, the more it can combat things on its own," said Weeks.
It takes a lot of labor to turn these tiny plants into a field of ripe eggplants. But it's a type of sustainable farming that was practiced here long before chemicals controlled pests and boosted yields. When it was the rich Red River soil that made this land so productive. Not only does Inglewood Farm sell it's produce at farmers markets across Alexandria but they also send their organic fruits and vegetables to Whole Foods stores across south Louisiana.
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