Zachary Men’s Club invites residents to pick in the garden the group maintains

Cultivating community

Floyd Pelichet, Charles Duplechain and most members of the Zachary Men’s Club are retired, but they work for a good cause almost every day in the club’s acre-and-a-half community garden.

“Being retired doesn’t mean you go out to pasture,” said Duplechain, who had a career in the military.

The Zachary Men’s Club is a nonprofit organization that has served the Zachary community for more than 50 years. The club is in the fifth year of the garden it established with the help of the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Mila Berhane, senior research associate, and Stephanie Elwood, horticulturist and extension associate, are both involved in promoting urban agriculture through the Southern University AgCenter.

“We got with Southern when we first started the garden,” said Pelichet, who is retired from Vulcan.”Southern helped us treat the soil and get ready for the garden.”

Berhane started working with the club in 2010. “They approached us to give some assistance,” she said. “We did some training in land prep and irrigation, and we grew seedlings for them in the Southern University greenhouse.”

The garden is a year-round project for the club, which raises money to support it. “We let people come from the community and pick, and we donate food to the Zachary Food Pantry,” Pelichet said.

The Food Pantry, owned and maintained by the city of Zachary, is in a new building on property donated by the Zachary Men’s Club. The building is adjacent to the club’s headquarters.

The garden is behind the property immediately to the south of the Food Pantry,

“The whole city, the mayor’s office, local businesses and Lane Hospital are all involved with the Food Pantry,” said Pelichet, who is president of the Men’s Club. “We do the garden and help out when we can.”

SU’s Elwood works with school and community gardens. She preaches the importance of gardening in the urban environment and teaches weekly gardening classes at Scotlandville Magnet High School, Scotlandville Middle School and the Southern Lab School.

“We build gardens from the ground up,” she said.

Many urban dwellers have no gardening experience, Berhane said.

The Southern AgCenter is focusing on teaching sustainable agricultural practices that are economically feasible, environmentally friendly and socially acceptable.

“We are trying to make urban gardeners self sufficient,” Berhane said. “We help them in the beginning and give them advice as they establish their gardens, but we want them to graduate.”

These days, the Men’s Club garden contains mustard greens, turnips, broccoli, cabbage and collards in spaced plantings to provide food for the entire winter. In late January, the men will begin planting potatoes.

In March and April, they will plant their spring and summer garden of corn, okra, tomatoes, peppers, green beans and butter beans.

“We go the whole gambit,” Pelichet said.

About eight members maintain the garden. “Everybody doesn’t come every day, but someone comes most every day,” Duplechain said. “We’re out here a lot.”