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Louisiana farmers join forces to survive climate change

A woman is using a blue sharpie to color in letters on a a large piece of cardboard. The writing on the cardboard reads "Mary Annaise" and climate grief cycle. There are other doodles on the carboard including an abstract drawing of people with interlinking arms.
Courtesy of All Solid Things
Artist Kim Culotta illustrates the words of climate writer Mary Annaise Heglar during a gathering at Chicot State Park on Jan. 22, 2024.

In a campground mess hall in Chicot State Park, a group of farmers gathered around a table to chat and exchange seed packets.

“I think that they wished that there was a larger table for how many seeds showed up,” said Lilli Voorhies, a Lafayette farmer who organized the seed swap as part of the first Louisiana Farmers Climate Convening.

Growers from across Louisiana arrived in Ville Platte earlier this week not only to swap seeds, but also to exchange information about how to adapt their farms to the changing climate. After a year in which farmers faced drought, wildfires, record-breaking heat and saltwater intrusion, the Louisiana Small-Scale Agriculture Coalition organized the gathering to build a statewide network of growers who can support each other through the climate crisis.

“Climate change is the most pressing problem, and so we don't want to move too slowly for folks who are ready to try to figure out how to have their farms be part of the solution,” said Margee Green, the director of SPROUT NOLA, one of the groups in the coalition.

The coalition worked with farmers to identify climate-related issues they wanted to address. According to Green, farmers were interested in accessing more resilient seeds, tapping into sustainable markets and learning how other farmers adapted to last year’s drought and extreme heat.

The first day focused on building community, while the second day was dedicated to sharing agricultural practices that can help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change, regenerate the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Retired biology professor Malcolm Vidrine discusses rewilding native plants and prairies at Chicot State Park on Jan. 22, 2024.
Courtesy of All Solid Things
Retired biology professor Malcolm Vidrine discusses rewilding native plants and prairies at Chicot State Park on Jan. 22, 2024.

Maggie Kaiser, who runs Too Tall Farm & Nursery in New Orleans, said one of the reasons she attended was to have conversations about disaster preparedness.

“Every disaster that comes just feels like we're being hit and hit, but we're never getting ahead of it,” she said.

Betty Chenier said the vegetable farm she and her husband own in Opelousas has felt the effects of severe weather caused by climate change. In 2022, they lost five acres of crops to an extreme freeze. Then 2023 was the world’s hottest year on record, with historic heat and drought throughout Louisiana that also took a toll on their farm.

“If something's not done about it now, it's going to severely affect small, sustainable farmers,” said Chenier. “I mean, it already has, but we need help.”

She said it’s great to share experiences with other farmers and see so many young people at the conference who are interested in sustainable agriculture, especially since the average age of farmers is increasing nationwide.

“I wish people would know that it's not all bad,” she said. “It’s good to be a farmer.”

Eva Tesfaye covers the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at eva@wrkf.org.