Search Our Site...


Local food policy group meets in Mansura

December 2, 2010

When the Louisiana Sustainable Local Food Policy Council met in Avoyelles Parish in late November to discuss how to increase awareness of locally grown food, some of the members had no idea how good goat milk tasted.
“Goat milk is delicious,” said Marguerite Constantine, co-owner of WesMar Farms, a goat dairy in Moreauville. 
The Louisiana Sustainable Local Food Policy Council is a new group that involves state agricultural stakeholders in the process of recommending a sustainable local food policy that can be applied to school lunch systems, government assistance programs and Louisiana agriculture.
The council was established by the State Legislature based on a proposal sponsored by Rep. Scott M. Simon of Abita Springs. The council, established within the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), will hold a series of meetings over the next two years and will hear from Louisiana producers, educators, restaurateurs and other interested parties to discuss ways to grow and sustain the local food economy.
The group’s first meeting was in August at the State Capitol.
At the Mansura meeting, the council heard from Marguerite Constantine, co-owner of a Moreauville goat dairy called WesMar Farms, Trent Bonnette of Marksville’s Brown Bag Gourmet and Ponchatoula High School agriscience teacher Alice Dubois.
Dubois, who is also the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) advisor, brought along FFA member Michelle Laterrade who explained to the council how the Ponchatoula High FFA interacts with the community at large.
“We learn about the urban and rural diversity in agriculture,” Laterrade said. “We’ve also worked with agriscience professionals.”
Laterrade’s presentation illustrated the work the Ponchatoula FFA has done in growing produce in square foot garden plots and contributing the produce to local food banks.
“The food bank was overwhelmed by our contribution of fresh produce,” Dubois said. “They said they hardly ever receive fresh food.”
Dubois said the lack of access of locally produced food in institutional food networks is a problem.
“We grow strawberries at the school, but when the cafeteria served strawberries at school at the height of the season, the berries were from California,” Dubois said.
Trent Bonnette told the council that he is constantly looking for ways to incorporate Louisiana food items, like Louisiana beef, sweet potatoes and cane syrup, into his menu at the Brown Bag Gourmet.
Bonnette wasn’t just giving lip service to the local food movement. He backed up his words when the council made a field trip to his Brown Bag Gourmet restaurant on Marksville’s Acton Road.
Bonnette’s choice for the set lunch was a shrimp, tasso and grits combo plate or a hamburger. A hamburger? Yes, a hamburger, but not just any hamburger. The Brown Bag Gourmet’s hamburger is made from beef grown at the Eagle Ranch in the nearby Goudeau community. The cattle from which the beef comes is processed comes from Babineaux’s Slaughterhouse in Breaux Bridge. Of course, the shrimp and tasso on the grits entrée were Louisiana-grown as well. 
“You can get the beef products easily from a food distributor,” Bonnette said. “That’s the easiest and quickest way, but I’ve made a commitment to buy as much local product as possible to serve in my restaurant.”  
Bonnette also uses goat cheese from WestMar Farms.                                                 
After the lunch, members of the council, including Representative Simon and Dickie Brennan of Commander’s Palace and Stephen Santillo of Blue Dog Café in Lafayette reconvened at WesMar Farms to tour Constantine’s goat dairy.
Constantine said potential buyers for goat products are more familiar with conventional supply businesses and she finds it difficult to break into institutional markets.
Constantine said she welcomes the marketing challenge and has adopted a “whatever it takes” attitude.
“We wanted to open our farm to the public as an agritourism venture and because we have goats, we found we had to be classified as a zoo to get the proper permits,” Constantine said. “So I thought whatever it takes. We kind of like the idea that we are one of only two zoos in Avoyelles parish.”
Constantine also told the council there are obstacles she will have to overcome to get her food products in the local public school cafeterias. 
“We learned we have to be classified as a USDA-approved commodity,” Constantine said.
Brennan and Santillo were impressed with WesMar Farms’ goat milk and bought all of the farm’s milk on hand and several varieties of the cheese for use in their restaurants.
“My sous chef at the Blue Dog is going to try the goat milk in some new recipes,” Santillo said. “We’re already using goat cheese locally produced in St. Martinville from Belle Ecorce Farms at Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro.”
Council member Harrison “Buddy” Miller, a fruit and vegetable farmer from Waterproof, identified with the presentations.
“I was impressed with all of the presenters but especially the FFA group because of their knowledge of local food production and their interest in educating people in enhancing their diet,” Miller said. “And WesMar Farms and Brown Bag Gourmet are doing great things in helping the local economy.
“I’ve encountered some roadblocks in trying to get my produce to market and some you can overcome and some you can’t. I hope the council will be able to address this.”
Simon said the presentations made an impact on him.
“We have a need for local food producers but fewer of our young people are getting into agricultural professions,” Simon said. “We’re experiencing a shrinking set of farmers but it looks like new ways of family farming have the potential to emerge.”
The Louisiana Sustainable Local Food Policy Council is comprised of agricultural producers, representatives from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), LSU and Southern AgCenters, the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, Louisiana Dietetics Association, Louisiana Meat Processors Association, restaurateurs, commercial fishermen, agriculture producers, farmers markets representatives and other government agencies.
The council will end its work in January 2012 and make recommendations to LDAF Commissioner Mike Strain.
“I’m confident we’ll have a firm grasp on the issues and be able to make recommendations that will provide our local agricultural producers with more market opportunities for their product,” Strain said.
The next meeting of the Louisiana Sustainable Local Food Policy Council will include a presentation on school lunch programs and nutrition from the Louisiana Department of Education. The New Orleans Food Policy Council and Second Harvest Food Bank will also make presentation. Included on the agenda is a side field trip to an “edible schoolyard” at a New Orleans school. Presentations are subject to change.
The meeting is scheduled for late January 2011.
For more information on the council, contact LDAF Deputy Assistant Commissioner Carrie Castille at 225-922-1234.
WesMar Farms
851 Couvillion St
Moreauville 71355
Brown Bag Gourmet
310 Acton Rd # B
Blue Dog Café
1211 W. Pinhook Road
Commander’s Palace
1403 Washington Avenue
New Orleans
Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro
507 W. Pinhook Road
Louisiana 4-H Museum
8592 Highway 1, Suite 2