Growing a Dream: This Family Quit Their Jobs and Started a Farm
Before bringing their wildly popular creole tomatoes to the Crescent City Farmers’ Market, the Poché family was just dreaming about launching a farm back home in Louisiana, some 1,300 miles away.
Excited by new opportunities, they decided to leave their jobs and start anew. Now in their third year of business, the matriarch Charise Poché reflects on their journey to bring fresh food to New Orleans families.
“We started our farm in 2013 when we returned from a three-year stint in Pennsylvania. Albert was retired, and we started it as something to do post retirement, and maybe to allow me to retire early,” Poché said.
While neither of their careers was related to farming, the switch made sense to the family who was already committed to eating well.
“When my children were young, it was important to me to offer them what I defined at the time as a balanced diet: meat, carb and veggie on the plate.”
It wasn’t always easy to get them to eat it, and when faced with a picky-eater, Poché had to get creative.
“My daughter Camille would eat everything, but my son Billie was pickier. I would look for different vegetables at the grocery store and buy different things fresh to try to find something green that he liked. I found out he liked artichokes, so I bought them every week to make sure he got a serving of something fresh and green.”
Her persistence worked, and she raised vegetable eaters who grew to be vital partners in the new family business.
“We work about 2.5 acres, and our family does all the work,” Poché said. “Both Billie and Camille work full time at the farm and have been a big part of making it successful.”
The farm is busy year round. Located in Independence, they focus on sustainable agriculture and use cover crops, organic pesticides, and natural fertilizers wherever possible.
“We are also able to offer an extended season for our produce through the use of high tunnels,” Poché said. “These unheated hoop house structures protect our crops from the elements including wind, rain and freezing temperatures enabling us to grow later in the winter season and plant earlier in the spring.”
From farm to your table
With produce such as tomatoes, eggplant, okra, peppers, beans, and a multitude of greens, the family attends three farmers markets each week. They enjoy the markets because it connects them to their customers, shortening the distance from farm to table.
“Nutritionally the food at the market is fresher than what is available at the grocery, and shopping at the market means talking face-to-face with the farmer that grows that food,” Poché said. “Eating local is not just good our bodies, but it is good for the earth too because eating local consumes less fuel and natural resources and is kinder to the earth.”
For families trying to eat better and support their communities, the farmers’ market may just be the gateway they need. It’s easier for kids to eat vegetables when it’s their normal, everyday food, so Poché recommends a consistent, hands-on experience.
“Start early and make it an adventure. Children and adults have lost the connection to our food from eating out of boxes and cans,” she said. “Having a small garden, even patio tomatoes, where a child can watch something grow and learn to enjoy eating and sharing something they grew themselves keeps them in touch with food.”
Shopping together at the market where the child can pick the foods and talk to the vendors can also have a cascading effect throughout the community.
“When families shop at farmers’ markets, they grow to understand and appreciate farming and farmers as an important part of our community,” Poché said. “We, in turn, do our best to support local businesses by shopping from other vendors at the market, shopping at our small town hardware store, and eating out at small local restaurants.”
The work is hard and physical as the Poché family tends the soil, harvests for markets, and meets the ongoing challenges of pests and weather. When not in the field, they’re applying for grants, researching practices, and improving their day-to-day operations. In addition to attending the Hammond Farmers’ Market, they’ve also launched a CSA in that area, which adds a steady stream of revenue for the growing venture. Although it is a lot of work for a retirement plan, Poché wouldn’t go back to her previous career.
“Though the farm keeps us very busy, especially in the spring and summer, it has simplified our lives, bringing us closer to the food we eat and the Earth we live on,” Poché said. “ I can no longer imagine a job working inside all day.