Farmers market tours show patrons where food is raised
L AFAYETTE — Going ‘leauxcal’ is nothing new, but the trend is catching fire in Acadiana-area barbecue pits with the rise in popularity of meat from local cattle farms and ranches.
The Lafayette Farmers & Artisans Market is scheduling tours of local alternatives to the mass-produced meat factories, including a trip to Gonsoulin Land & Cattle Ranch in New Iberia.
“A big benefit of having a farmers market is that you can talk to the person who grows or raises your food,” said Molly Richard, the farmers market manager. “Just that human connection to your food is something you don’t really get at a grocery store.”
Richard said she hopes the tours can lead to local food production becoming more of a community activity and can help meet a demand from market patrons who want to know more about the food they buy.
“Our biggest thing is that it’s local,” said Gonsoulin Ranch owner Shannon Gonsoulin. “Local is huge. People want to know where their food is coming from and how it’s made.”
The inaugural tour sponsored by the market took inquisitive guests to The Bayou Farm in Ville Platte on May 4.
“It went well,” said Donald Keller, who owns the farm with Sarah Bailly. “Everyone was happy to see the animals. Everybody was interested in seeing the breeds.”
Pigs, cows, chickens and sheep greeted the roughly 30 guests, nearly half of them children who had never set foot on a farmstead, Richard said.
“Donald gave the kids a bunch of sheep’s wool that (he) had collected, and they made old-school yarn,” she said.
The children picked bouquets from pasture plants and harvested eggs from hens.
“We learned a lot about pasture plants and what kind of plants you need to keep in your pasture for the certain species of cattle and sheep they raise,” Richard said.
The tours offer a chance for detailed questions people may not have time to ask at the Saturday market in Lafayette, and the answers might awaken someone’s inner farmer.
“If people are interested in farming, there are plenty of resources and people to go to for help,” Richard said. “They don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
As for the reason why Keller and Bailly started their own farm three years ago, it was pretty simple.
“Good food,” Keller said. “Good food that we can keep eating.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, grass-fed meats contain heart-healthy fats like omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acids, both of which lower risk of heart disease.
These grass-fed cattle ranches call back to the older days of working their cattle on horseback, leading to a quieter, less stressful environment for the cattle.
“The cattle respect horses more than a person on foot or a four-wheeler,” Gonsoulin said.
These farmers combine their holistic approaches with modern soil and water conservation techniques to ensure high-quality beef, poultry and pork without resorting to antibiotics or growth hormones.
Not only are these practices good for the land, but the strict nonchemical paradigms these farms employ keep their plants strong and healthy.
“We optimize plant performance by having the animals where they need to eat without overgrazing,” Keller said. “Because of that, the plants come back stronger.”
Gonsoulin said he is looking forward to the tour of his ranch and has prepared a trailer to tow guests around his farm.
The Gonsoulin Ranch tour will end with a cookout for visitors to taste the Gonsoulin’s grass-fed beef for themselves.
Gonsoulin said he hopes guests walk away more educated about their food and how it’s produced.
“A lot of the time, the process is misunderstood when it’s shown on TV,” he said. “We want to show how we produce locally.”
As for future tours, Richard said she’d like to branch out into touring vegetable farms like Mark and Mary’s City Farm in Lafayette, maybe allowing visitors to harvest their own veggies to take home.
For information about the farm tours, visit www. marketatthehorsefarm.com.