In 2006, when he was 23, John Bartlett started the Garden (www.thegardenveg.com) as a small, pesticide-free farm on land his family has owned for generations in Folsom, La. Though new to farming at the time, he's since developed the Garden to about three acres of vegetables, an acre of fruit trees and 180 cage-free hens supplying eggs. You'll find him or his mother Nancy at the Crescent City Farmers Market (www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org) on Tuesdays and Thursdays and at the Covington Farmers Market (www.covingtonfarmersmarket.org) on Saturdays.
We think about farms passing from generation to generation, but you made a new one from scratch. How did the Garden get started?
Barlett: Without Hurricane Katrina I never would have done this. The storm blew down all these trees on our property. Without that happening I never would have cut down these old-growth trees and cleared the land. But after the storm we knew we'd never see this land like it had been before again in our lifetime. I didn't know anything about running a sustainable farm or working the farmers markets, so we started small.
That learning curve had to be steep. What has kept you motivated?
B: At the end of the day, if I'm burned out on something, you just have to remember that you're feeding people. You're not just selling them some product they don't need. It's the essence, the basics of life. It's also giving people something they want that's better than what they can get at the supermarket or anywhere else. There's just no room for mass production in what we do, so it's really just the people like us you see at the farmers markets who are going to provide that for people.
What would you tell people who want to start something similar?
B: I'd tell them you have to get your hands dirty to understand it. What you learn in schools and books will give you the fundamentals, but the only way to really get good at it is to do it, either on your own or through an apprenticeship. The books out there don't really apply to the seasons and conditions farmers face along the Gulf Coast anyway. — IAN MCNULTY