Acadiana is growing a new generation of farmers who use organic, eco-conscious methods – Daily Advertiser

Blazing Star Farm in Sunset operates under a guiding principle — soil has a memory.
“It remembers if you till it too much, if you use too much fertilizer and kill it,” said Alisha Delahoussaye, who owns and runs the farm with husband Jacob. “Then it’s like a memory foam mattress that doesn’t bounce back.
“Soil is amazing, and it can overcome a lot,” the 34-year-old farmer continued. “But it takes a lot of care.”
That’s why she uses organic fertilizer rather than synthetic and relies heavily on the good, old-fashioned stuff like animal manure and cover cropping.
A cover crop is a plant used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity, attract pollinators and even increase crop yields, according to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.
Brennan “Bruno” Sagrera, 23, also stands by cover cropping, planting lablab bean and velvet bean, which was common among Louisiana farms decades ago, before synthetic fertilizers were on the scene.
“They called it ‘green manure,'” Sagrera said. “It produces a lot of biomes, grows big and sprawling, dies and decomposes, and adds to the soil and fixes nitrogen. It’s like a slow-release fertilizer.”
He wants to see such plants and practices returned to the farming industry just like the essential minerals they return to the ground.
He grew up on land in Abbeville that has been farmed for generations, and he studied plant genetics for a short time at Arizona State University and then worked on farms in Oregon and India.
Now he’s experimenting with sustainable practices on his own, starting two months ago on an acre in Arnaudville and hoping to combine what he’s seen work at his own large-scale family farm as well as the simple, but effective practices still being used around the world.
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“It opened my perspective seeing farmers transplant by hand,” he said. “The way we farm our land conventionally is just mining; it’s never giving back (to the soil).”
At this rate, eventually the soil won’t produce what we want and need it to, he explained. 
“It ain’t gonna last,” Sagrera said. “So we find where we can try good things we left behind (like cover cropping) and new good things we can do to make farming systems for this time.”
The goal of cover cropping and other sustainable practices is to see healthier soil, which means better plants grow thanks to more organic matter and the ability to hold more moisture and so on.
“There are a lot of benefits, but it takes time,” Sagrera said. “Through it all, at least I help the land out a bit and help others get into (farming), whether just growing food for their family, starting a small farm or allowing a big family farm to continue.”
Sagrera tends his rows of purple hull peas with a garden hoe after a full day of working on another local farm. He does a lot of weeding by hand, conserving energy both in his body and in fossil fuels.
“I have to work with systems that take less energy,” he said. 
The area planted with beans serves as research on regenerative farming, looking for any potential to implement what he learns on a larger scale.
“We’re kind of late to the party here, but it is possible,” he said. “There’s another way to do things. This type of farming is slow.”
Delahoussaye was trained in organic farming techniques, working in recent years at farms in central and south Louisiana. She has a degree in environmental horticulture and her husband a degree in horticulture.
“We both got the farming bug in college,” she said.
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After working on farms across the southeastern U.S., they moved to Lafayette, Jacob’s hometown, and established Blazing Star in 2016. They started by growing both vegetables and flowers, and shifted mostly to flowers as they saw a stronger market for cut-flowers.
Delahoussaye works on the farm full-time along with some part-time help, and Jacob works on the farm as well as full-time for UPS. The goal is to one day both be full-time farmers.
“There’s no way I could be in an office all day,” she said. “I feel like I am a flower. I have to have sunshine and be outside. It keeps my mental health in check.”
She was trained in organic farming, which she sought and continues to seek as she runs her own farm.
“So much of our agriculture is not concerned about the soil, but about just getting from point A to point B, not about the best way to treat the soil,” she said. “And they’re not making any more of it.”
Their 4-plus acres include a propagation greenhouse and another on the way to start plants from seed, as well as the rows of lisianthus, celosia, sunflowers and culinary ginger. They also have crops of lettuce, zucchini and other vegetables.
Growing on a half-acre, Blazing Star is considered a micro-farm, and they expand a little every year. With cover-cropping, she lets “the soil do its work.”
They’re not the only ones out there, but rather part of a growing trend. Sagrera partners with Coastal Prairie Farm and Nursery in Eunice, and in nearby Lafayette, Bumble Prairie Growing is a first-generation family farm growing bioregional seeds, food and flowers, just to name a few in Acadiana.
Agriculture is an important industry to Louisiana, with 8 million acres farmed across the state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s an essential part of the Bayou State’s identity and culture, and sustainable farmers like these aim to keep it that way for a long time to come. 
It can be as simple as starting with just one plant, Delahoussaye said.
“There are just not enough of us small producers here,” she said. “It’s not hard; you just have to do it.”
Contact children’s issues reporter Leigh Guidry at or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.