Our farm was established in 1926 by Santos Bazile. After his death a few years later, Freddie Bazile continued the family tradition. He had everything he needed to work the farm in his hard working wife (Maudie), six children (Marie, Janice, Freddie J., Linda, Mervin and Michael) and trusty mule named Ada. He considered the way we do things now days “lazy farming” compared to the hard labor and long hours he and his family put in to ensure that the berry crop was the very best. Ada was truly a mans best friend in those days since she pulled the plow to make sure that the fields were in prime condition.
Everyone in the family had a job to do…the children raked pine straw from the thicket to put on the rows to protect the plants from the weather and from grass. When the weather became more favorable, the children had to go back through the fields and pull EACH plant out of the pine straw. While this process was tedious, it was the only way the family had to make sure that their precious strawberry plants were protected.
Picking the berries was also a job that the children and any other free hand in the community were expected to do during harvest season…which usually ran from March to mid May. School didn’t take in until around 10:00 in the morning because all of the children had to pick strawberries before they could go to school. In mid March, when the season was at its peak, school would let out for summer vacation (as they called it back then) and start back again around the Fourth of July.
The pay for picking the strawberries was very good for the time. It started off at 30 cents per handcarrier. When it went to 50 cents per handcarrier, the children thought they were rich! As the years went on, it went up to 75 cents and then gradually to a whole dollar! This was…and still is…VERY hard work, but the children needed every penny they could get because if they didn’t make enough money picking strawberries they didn’t get new shoes for the school year. These were hard times for everyone. As Freddie’s grandchildren grew up later, most of them thought it better to stay inside and clean the house than to go out and have to do the strenuous work of picking strawberries. One of the biggest whines he heard from the kids was “Paw Paw…my back is killing me!” and he would look at them without even blinking and say “You aren’t old enough to have a back…it’s just a gristle back there!” Most of the time, the response he got was “Then my gristle hurts!” This would give everyone a good laugh and then back to work they all went.
When the children picked the strawberries, it wasn’t as easy to get them to market as it is now. This was before there were many cars on the roads and there weren’t nearly as many grocery stores and other retail chains in existence. Because of this, they would bring the berries to the train station in Ponchatoula for shipping. There they were sold and shipped to many different places. Aside from shipping, when the shelf life of the berries was very short they were picked and stemmed to be sent to the cannery that used to be located in Springfield (next to the old Amvets Hall). These berries were used for canning, jams, jellies and frozen uses.
When tractors and black plastic came along, a farmers hard labor got a little easier. Ada was put to pasture, but things got much more expensive. This is why there are only between 350 and 400 acres of strawberries being farmed today in comparison to the 15,000 or so just twenty years ago. Most of the farmers today are located in Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes. Because of labor laws, children are no longer used for picking. Instead, farmers use local as well as migrant workers to harvest their fruit. Now farmers like us simply try and sell our produce to local roadside vendors as well as local farmers markets and grocery stores. Some of the stores our farm supplies are Robert’s Fresh Markets and Whole Foods stores in New Orleans. Look for our label the next time you visit one of these stores.
Some of you may have seen Rhonda Poche of our farm on TV in the Louisiana Strawberry Marketing Board’s campaign to encourage people to BUY LOUISIANA! We also are proud to be the home of the 2013 Strawberry Festival King, Mark Landry.
We must remember to continue to support our local farmers as well as our state, so remember…BUY LOUISIANA! And please, don’t forget…the next time you’re eating something like some of our big, red, juicy, delicious strawberries…THANK A FARMER!