Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Citrus Field Trip

Winter in the garden is a leafy-green time in the Dreamkeeper garden.  Our production rows are finally in use and they're filled with all sorts of brassicas (cabbage, mustards, collards broccoli, brussel sprouts) and root vegetables (carrots, beets, radishes), almost all of which produce large, edible greens and no fruit.

Luckily, winter in Louisiana is like a giant citrus party.  Markets fill with bright-colored mesh bags of local oranges and satsumas as farmers truck in their crops from all around the southern part of the state.

Our scholars take citrus season a step further.  For the second year in a row, LHA's 4th grade scholars got to take a field trip to a local citrus farm.

We arrived at Isabelle's Citrus Farm, located just along the levee in Belle Chase, on the West Bank in Plaquemines Parish.  Farmer Isabelle, who owns and manages the farm, greeted us warmly and began the grand citrus tour.

Farmer Isabelle, giving scholars a tour
The first thing scholars noticed was the moat around her house, a ring of water covered with a thin layer of a strange green material.

"Algae!"  Farmer Isabelle explained.  "We harvest the algae and use it as an organic fertilizer for our citrus trees."

Algae! (left)
"Organic?" Wondered some scholars, "What do you mean by that?"

"Organic means I don't use any toxic or dangerous chemicals on my farm.  Our fruit is so safe that you can even eat the skin."

Next we wandered through her groves of grapefruits, satsumas, oranges, and tangelos.  Tangelos!  We'd never seen such a big citruses!

Finally, we got a taste for ourselves.  Each scholar got to eat a satsuma, a navel orange, or a grapefruit.  Scholars peeled them by hand, made compost piles out of the skins, and shared so that everyone got to try each variety.

The tastiest part of our field trip.
We thanked Farmer Isabelle and loaded over 100 pounds of citrus onto the buses to share with the rest of LHA scholars.  That Friday everybody at school got a taste, too!

~100 pounds of citrus, ~70 pound scholar
Farmer Isabelle counts herself lucky among citrus farmers.  Back in September, the storm surge from Hurricane Isaac topped the levee system in Plaquemines Parish, causing catastrophic damage to this year's citrus crop.  Many farmers lost 75% or more of their crop, and the season is expected to end prematurely.

Aspiring citrus farmers?
Some farms may take years to fully recover, while others may be forced to close.  But there's hope.  If our scholars are any indication, it doesn't look like Louisiana citrus will lose its appeal anytime soon!

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