Co-ops organizing gardening project in Iberia

Hydroponic system to expand produce

A $200,000 gardening project seeks to bring a variety of unique, year-round produce to farmers’ markets in Iberia Parish by the spring.

“We’re hoping this jump starts new business in the area and makes this a better place to live,” said Marti Harrell, the initiative manager of the project.

The two cooperatives in the gardens project, the Iberia Community Garden Co-op and Heirloom Produce Co-op, will use soil-less hydroponic systems to increase quality and productivity while using less water, energy and space.

T h e plants will be grown in Styrofoam containers with a hydroponic drip supplying water and nutrients, said Phanat Xanamane, manager of the Iberia Co-op.

H e described the gardens as a community-oriented project aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles . T h eir first produce , he said, will include lettuce, bok choy, cabbage and other greens that yield a quick harvest.

“ W e hope to reflect the diversity of the community in the things that we grow,” Xanamane said.

T he Iberia Community Gardens Co-op will use a quarter-acre lot at 1505 Hopkins St. , New Iberia, while the Heirloom Produce Co-op will use 10 smaller gardens throughout Iberia Parish maintained by independent gardeners with an interest in hydroponic methods.

T he smaller gardens will grow heirloom vegetables, and the seeds from those plants can be saved from year to y ear to plant new crops, H eirloom Co-op manager Mary Himel said .

“ One of the wonderful features of heirloom produce is that it’s not what you see at the supermarket,” Himel said. “You have a very wide variety, for instance, black-cherry tomatoes, striped eggplant, interesting lettuce varieties. ”

She said the vegetables are v arieties that c a n ’t be mass produced for sale at supermarkets.

T h e Iberia Industrial Development Foundation and its sister organization, the Iberia Development Foundation, were approached by the Community Foundation of Acadiana in October to manage to gardens project.

C FA agreed to finance the gardens through its Fund for Gulf Communities, which provides assistance to those adversely affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The hydroponic gardens project was a part of its objective.

Harrell said the IDF has a long history of successful project s and program s outcomes in partnership with the Community Foundation of Acadiana , particularly with the Fund for Gulf Communities .