The school year, abbreviated by the covid-19 pandemic, is officially over and Louisiana’s sugar industry played a small role in educating more than 1,500 students on the important role sugarcane plays in our state economy.
By Jim Simon
Manager, American Sugar Cane League
The American Sugar Cane League set aside more than $14,000 to help defray field trip transportation costs for school children to visit local museums with strong sugarcane exhibits.
“When my father was a young farmer, more families were associated with rural life and farming sugarcane. They knew what it was like to make your own cane syrup, raise chickens, cattle, pigs and cash crops,” said Gregory Gravois, president of the American Sugar Cane League.
Gravois is a St. James Parish sugarcane farmer and heads up his Blackberry Farms operation which manages more than 4,000 cane acres.
“In today’s consumer society, school-aged children are more removed from the farm than at any time in history. We think it’s important for kids to have an idea of the role sugarcane played in building their communities throughout the cane belt,” Gravois said
The cane belt is the 23-parish area stretching from Rapides in the north to Cameron in the southwest and Terrebonne Parish in southeastern Louisiana, Gravois explained.
“Sugarcane was the main reason farmers settled in Louisiana in the early 19th century and helped Louisiana become part of the United States in 1812,” Gravois said. “I know this because I’m a farmer, but the next generations of Louisiana citizens may not understand the significance unless they are taught the history and economics.”
Gravois and the League’s public relations committee got together and identified the museums with strong sugarcane emphases. Committee Chair Bryan Simon said an obvious choice was the Bayou Teche Museum in Iberia Parish.
“Iberia is one of the top sugarcane parishes in the state and the Bayou Teche Museum in New Iberia has a very strong sugarcane exhibit,” Simon said. “We also determined the Jeanerette Museum in St. Mary Parish, the West Baton Rouge Parish Museum in Port Allen and Bayou Country Children’s Museum in Thibodaux would really help deliver a positive message about sugarcane.”
Mona Stansbury of the Jeanerette Museum reported that more than 640 students from nine Iberia Parish and three St. Mary Parish schools visited the Jeanerette Museum.
“Students are taking advantage of your organization’s generosity,” Stansbury said. “You’ve made our museum busy.”
Marcia Patout, director of the Bayou Teche Museum said more than 300 schoolchildren toured through the Bayou Teche Museum.
The Bayou Country Children’s Museum hosted than 425 students while the West Baton Rouge Museum entertained more than 240. One of the schools that visited the WBR Museum came from Calcasieu Parish, a sugarcane producing area on the far western edge of the cane belt.
Alice Viator, head of the social studies program in Iberia Parish, was very appreciative of our work. “Two of my goals in our district are to improve equity ensuring that all students have the same opportunities and to better incorporate our local history into our state, national and world history curriculums. Your grant will allow us to address both of these goals. Thank you.”
Sugarcane continues to be Louisiana’s number one row crop and the League will continue to sponsor meaningful educational outreach to help the public to understand what it means to be a 21st century sugarcane producer.
Other members of the League’s public relations committee are Lane Blanchard, Mark Engemann, Ricky Gonsoulin, Micah Guidry, Chad Hanks, Rob Judice, Will Legendre, Mark Patout and Frank Sotile Jr.