Fresh dirt tilled to meet the sun for the first time in 40 years marks the new home for EarthShare Gardens, a nonprofit community group that has raised vegetables for those in need and nurtured neighborhood gardens across Lafayette.
“It’s a new start for us,” said EarthShare board member Julie LaFleur. “It’s a blank slate, an empty field that has not had anything in it for 40 years.”
The community garden will get that new start on 4 acres of land in Scott owned by the McMath family.
The lease, which will run for at least 10 years, will allow EarthShare Gardens to think of long-term expansions, EarthShare board member Stacy Scarce said.
“The biggest benefit is that we know it’ll be there for 10 years, because we have that 10-year lease,” she said.
Zack McMath and his wife, Melodie, the creators of artisan juice company Evolve Juice, approached EarthShare several months ago with the idea of relocating to their family’s land, said EarthShare board member Chris Adams.
“We loved the idea, and the McMath family was amenable,” Adams said. “So, we worked out an agreement.”
Formed as a nonprofit in 2004 operating from a plot of land at Holy Rosary Institute, which is owned by the Sisters of the Holy Family, EarthShare began producing food with the help of farmer Robert Faul in 2005.
“We started as a way to get people in the Lafayette community connected back to where their food comes from and growing local, healthy, fresh produce,” Adams said. “That’s been our primary mission in the past years, and we’ve done that by setting up gardens.”
The Holy Rosary site hosted a mix of community gardens for residents to grow their own fruits and vegetables and of donation gardens built specifically to grow food for FoodNet: The Greater Acadiana Food Bank.
In 2013, the garden gave the food bank more than 3,000 pounds of fresh vegetables.
Donations aside, the garden also allows residents to purchase plots to receive the food grown in them by Faul.
“It allows people to have a place to get local, fresh, organic food that is ripened on the vine,” Scarce said. “There are many more nutrients in these foods because they have ripened on the vine, so it’s a healthier choice.”
After being forced to move out by their former landlords a year ago, the group operated out of a member’s backyard in Youngsville.
Having to relocate was a chance to re-evaluate the garden’s focus, Adams said.
“We decided to focus more vigorously on community gardening efforts and fresh vegetable donations,” he said. “Giving back to the community has always been an important part of our mission, and we feel that we can do even more than in the past.”