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Photo: Neighborhood children gather around Eva Iford Friday as they examine the soil for the First Harvest Community Garden project. 

Photo by FREDDIE HERPIN, Photographer

BOBBY ARDOIN
Contributing Writer

Eva Iford thinks the best way to commemorate her 85th birthday is once again seeing her patch of family property develop into a productive community agricultural garden.

The candles on that birthday wish were lighted late Friday as Iford welcomed children, visitors and state agriculture specialists to a Mouton Street lot where she hopes to reinvigorate local enthusiasm for growing farm products as part of her First Community Harvest Garden project.

Iford looked out recently on an acre of vacant land that once served as a community food source that grew vegetables and plants for consumption and imagined that her property can again provide that type of service for nearby residents.

“We started the First Harvest garden in 2002 and it’s an idea has never really stopped. Now it needs some revitalization and I want to do that, especially for the younger generation. I want them to come here and help grow things, look at eggs from chickens not as something you just go buy at the store,” Iford said.

On Friday Iford seemed to be getting some initial assistance with her venture that started three days before her birthday.

A nearby resident cut grass on the lot, where rows from previous harvests are still visible. Another man repainted plant boxes, while two young girls watered cabbage plants that had already begun to develop.

A old mobile home that has sat on the property for years, featured a colony of disturbed bees, which Iford noted might serve as an eventual pollination source.

“You know I’m getting up there in age and I just didn’t want to leave and see this place drying up. I want to once again get everyone involved in the soil, in growing things. I’m getting help from Southern University and LSU and (parish president) Jessie Bellard has promised some us help,” said Iford.

Lisa Benoit, who provides St. Landry and other parishes with LSU Agricultural Center directed 4-H and youth-oriented agricultural programs, said the university will supply the garden with soil testing services.

Antonio Harris, director for the Southern University Agricultural Center program for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Institute, said he will oversee the planting and seed supply as well as obtaining fertilization products for the garden.

Harris said in order to transform the property into what he called a Garden of Eden, a constant supply of manpower and concern are required.

“If we are going to start this, it means that we are going to finish this. It needs to be a concerted effort in which there is constant involvement. This cannot be a sometimes thing. We want to make sure everyone has a share in developing the garden,” Harris told those in attendance.

Harris said there will be much work involved to make the garden sustainable each month as growing seasons rotate.

There will be a need to reconstruct greenhouses Harris said and in 15 days Harris hopes to have the ground prepared to begin preparing the garden produce that is normally planted in May, such as okra.

“What we will do is plant a year round seasonal garden, but development for that will take all pieces of the community. We have the resources to do this. We just have to get our minds ready and in sync to do it correctly,” Harris said.