Alisha Andrews Delahoussaye grows mostly flowers at her microfarm in Scott because fresh-cut flowers yield a better return than produce.
It's not exactly what Delahoussaye, 31, had in mind in 2016 when she and her husband, Jacob, started Blazing Star Farm, named for a native flower also known as liatris. But farming is a tough business, especially for the youngest generation of farmers like Delahoussaye who haven't inherited a farm or land on which to farm.
"The first two years, we were about equally split between cut flowers and vegetables, about 50-50," Delahoussaye said. "Just gradually, it's moved to the majority of the plants being flowering crops because financially, the profit margin on the cut flowers is much higher."
Delahoussaye also serves as president of the Acadiana Food Alliance, which aims to build income for regional producers by increasing sales and consumption of local food.
The alliance has been quietly working in the community since its formation in 2014. Delahoussaye and other leaders have created a land-match program, maintained a local food directory and offered business resources to producers. The latest work of the alliance was the South Louisiana Food Summit, which was held June 17-18 as a way to address the challenges and opportunities that exist in the local food economy.
"I see the Acadiana Food Alliance potentially becoming a champion for local, smaller, sustainable farmers in this region," Delahoussaye said. "Because even though farming is a business, it's a little bit different from operating a brick-and-mortar florist shop. We're having to deal with the weather and sourcing different types of materials than the typical business that's just reselling. We file differently on our taxes."
One of the greatest challenges facing young farmers, including more business-savvy farmers like Delahoussaye, is access to affordable land.
It's the main reason why farmers quit farming and why aspiring farmers haven't yet started, according to a 2017 survey of more than 3,500 young farmers by The National Young Farmers Coalition. Three-quarters of the farmers surveyed didn't come from farming backgrounds and weren't in a position to inherit land.
"It's one of the biggest challenges for us," Delahoussaye said. "We want to be close to Lafayette, but the price of land is astronomical. Ag land should be under $10,000 an acre, and it's around $25,000 to $30,000 an acre here."
The average price of farm real estate has more than doubled in the past 15 years, which is more than the average farmer can afford or reasonably pay off through farm income, according to the 2017 NYFC survey.
Land in more urban areas is more costly than rural land, but it's more desirable for farmers like Delahoussaye who wish to sell directly to customers.
"Jacob and I have a real passion for this, but we've also put a lot of time and work into training to become farmers," Delahoussaye said. "This is my full-time job, and it is a viable business. You can make your income from farming."
Ultimately, Delahoussaye hopes her husband can also farm full-time with her, but he currently supplements their income through a part-time delivery position.
The Acadiana Food Alliance recently launched a land-match program that could help remedy the problem through connecting landowners to entrepreneurial growers to form land-use agreements.
In addition to the land-match program, the alliance plans to continue serving local growers through sponsoring farmer trainings, bringing in speakers from states with sustainable agriculture communities and continuing to connect people to local food at restaurants, stores, schools and anywhere else food is found in the community.