For Thibodaux resident Lester Gravois, sugar cane isn’t just a job but a passion.
His father grew the crop, and he started farming right after high school. Now 95 years old, Gravois can often be found in the field.
"I do what I feel like doing, and usually going in the field is one of the things I like to do,” he said.
Gravois said he started out with a few hundred acres, and his family now has about 4,000 acres.
"I’ve seen some good grindings, and I’ve seen some terrible grindings,” he said. "Of all the grindings I’ve been through, which is a lot, I can say one year – 1951 – was the year I had red showing. That means I lost money.”
A freeze in early November resulted in a bad crop that year, he said, and sugar was about 6 cents a pound.
Gravois said his best year farming sugar cane was 1974, when the crop was decent and the price of sugar went up to about 60 cents a pound.
"I remember getting a good stalk of sugar cane, weighing it and figuring how much money that cane was worth,” he said. "That cane was worth 25 cents, one (stalk of) sugar cane.”
When the family started farming, almost everything was done manually.
"We had 33 mules,” Gravois said. "Those mules went to work about 5, 6 o’clock in the morning, and they had to eat before they went to work. We had to make sure they were well-fed before they went to work. That was no simple job. My daddy got after me many times about not doing it like it should be done. He always thought the mules came way before us.”
Gravois said he feels lucky to have lived such a long life.
He served in the Army from 1943-45, fighting in World War II. He was in Nuremberg, Germany, when the war ended.
Gravois and his late wife had 10 children.
One of his sons, Bobby, said his father taught him perseverance and how to respect his employees.
"You get a good return from hard work,” Bobby Gravois said. "Might not be today or tomorrow, but look at the long haul. It’s coming.”
Photo caption: Lester Gravois (left) and his brother Charles Gravois (seated at right), at a 2015 Gravois family gathering. Photo by Sam Irwin, American Sugar Cane League.