Many Louisiana sugarcane farmers say their farming operation is just a little ol’ family-owned farm, but the Mitchel J. Ourso family of Iberville Parish takes it to an extreme.
There are no less than seven families involved in the operation of Ourso Farms. There’s Mitchel and his wife, Amy. Their 29-year-old son, Robert, part of the next Ourso farming generation, is following in his father’s footsteps. Robert has hopes his two young sons will be in the fifth generation of farming Oursos. Mitchel II, affectionately called Little Mitch, is an expert combine operator but is not 100 percent sure that he wants to fully embrace the farming profession. Mitchel cautiously says, “He’s a computer and video game geek, but, yes, I think he’ll end up being a farmer.” Martin, the youngest, is still attending Louisiana State University, but Mitchel is confident that he’ll come back to the farm.
Then there is Mitchel’s deceased brother’s family. Milton “Rocky” Ourso, drowned in a tragic boating accident in 2006. Brothers Mitchel, Rocky, Donnie and Artie were all farming together just as their children were reaching young adulthood when the accident occurred. The family partnership continued after Rocky’s death. Rocky’s daughter, Jessica, operates the business office. Deric and Donnie (Big Donnie’s kids) farm alongside their father and uncles. Sister Arlene’s son, Jesse, is on the job as well.
Ourso Farms is not really a little ol’ farm at all – when all their assets are combined, the Oursos manage more than 8,000 acres of land in Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes on parts of the historic Nottoway, Augusta, Forest Home, Catherine, Belle Grove, Rosehill and Poplar Grove plantations. That’s large by any standard and a long way from grandfather Martin Ourso’s 40-acres back in the 1940s.
“My grandfather died in a railroad accident when he was very young,” Mitchel said. “My daddy (Milton) quit school when he was 13 to help his mamma run the farm.”
Sixty years later Ourso Farms is running six combines and harvesting between 2,500 – 3,000 tons of sugarcane per day.
To farm that kind of acreage you’ve got to maximize every bit of efficiency possible. Currently, Mitchel is in the process of leveling newly acquired land near the old Cedar Grove plantation at the intersection of Highway 1 and Cedar Grove Road. He pointed to a section of land that is obviously “crowned” with a high spot in the middle. It’s land that used to be an airstrip and formerly managed by retired farmer Davis Callegan.
The last twenty years of farming history have introduced much technological advancement to the industry, and taking advantage of these improvements has been very important for the Louisiana cane farmer. Mitchel and his brothers were on the front lines of innovation.
“We’ve been leveling our land since the 1990s, he said. “We’re going to plant soybeans here (the Callegan land) and harvest them before we plant sugarcane next year. Soybean prices are fairly good right now and a good cash crop to make when we have bad cane prices.”
“We’re taking the smaller fields, eliminating the ditches and culverts and making one larger field that we’ll level,” Mitchel said.
The quality of the land to be leveled is to be considered and Mitchel finds the soil closest to the Mississippi River is a good proposition and fairly easy to do. Away from the river, not so much.
“I’ve got some ice cream land that drains very quickly but I’ve also got some of that black nasty stuff too,” he said.
Mitchel worked on the farm as a young boy but was lured to the oil patch after high school. He trained as a welder for two years then decided to come back to the farm. Today, Mitchel is in the process of reclaiming land around the old Cedar Grove mill. He’s bulldozing the old factory’s concrete pads and investigating ways to crush the concrete for use as aggregate on his farm roads and loading sites. One thing that caught his eye as he surveyed the property around the old factory is a patch of volunteer mustard greens growing in a long abandoned garden.
“I’m ready for some mustard greens,” he said. “I’m coming to pick those things.” Apparently the big row-production farmer still has a bit of the backyard gardener in him.
Most cane farmers will say they have a hobby. When Mitchel was a few years younger he was an avid (and quite good) softball player. His team played in tournaments across the country. Now that Mitchel is 53, his playing days are over, so he and Amy bought a camp in Grand Isle. Of course, a lot of farmers say they have hobbies and other avocations, but their main interest is always going to be farming.
“We spend the summers at Grand Isle when I’m not working but I guess I’m working a lot,” Mitchel said. “I’m feeling good that my sons are involved, but I just wish they’d make up their minds what they want to do so I can go ahead and retire. My sons are young but still have a way to go.”
For now, Mitchel will have to balance his Grand Isle time between family, farming and politics. Brother Rocky was serving as an Iberville Parish Councilman at the time of his death, and Mitchel, encouraged to run in a special election for the vacant office, was elected to complete his brother’s term in 2007. A few months later he won the regular election. He was re-elected unopposed to a full term in 2011.
The Ourso name has always been well known in his hometown of White Castle and Iberville Parish and Mitchel accepts the political responsibility with good nature, and he hopes, with wisdom.
“Service to our community is part of who the Ourso family is,” Mitchel said. “I’d much rather if Rocky was still here to do it but this job came to me. I accepted it and I’m doing the best job I know how. I hope Rocky is proud.”
by Sam Irwin
Sugar and Diabetes: What Does the American Diabetes Association Say?
Sugar and nutrition is always in the news. Want to know what the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has to say about sugar? It’s all here in the ADA’s most recent Position Statement, Nutrition Therapy Recommendations for the Management of Adults With Diabetes. The paper provides important nutrition advice that can be used by everyone, not just people with diabetes. They make common-sense recommendations on maintaining energy balance, portion control and primarily eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
The American Sugar Cane League and Sugar Association supports these and other efforts to advise all Americans that fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other fiber and calcium-rich foods should be the centerpieces of their daily diets. We also support dietary guidance that helps Americans recognize that foods or beverages that don’t contribute appreciable nutrients should not be major components of a diet but consumed as treats within caloric needs.
It’s important for diabetics to make healthy choices and to know that consuming sugar in moderation, primarily in healthier food options, does not pose unique complications for diabetics. According to the ADA’s Position Statement:
Sucrose is a disaccharide made of glucose and fructose. Commonly known as table sugar or white sugar, it is found naturally in sugar cane and in sugar beets. Research demonstrates that substitution of sucrose for starch for up to 35% of calories may not affect glycemia [blood glucose levels] or lipid levels [blood fats].
The average American consumes about 7% of their calories from sugar/sucrose and about 14% of calories from all forms of sweetening ingredients combined. We are definitely not recommending anyone consume 35% of calories from sugar but the current drumbeat of misinformation related to consuming sugar is creating unwarranted fear, for diabetic persons and the general population alike. Sugar is an all-natural carbohydrate with just 4 grams and 15 calories per teaspoon and has been safely used for centuries. READ THE PAPER
Recipe: SnowflakeCake for Two Dozen
Winter is here and, while we rarely see snowflakes in Louisiana, here’s Mrs. Marlin J. Nereaux of New Iberia’s Snowflake Cake recipe. The recipe is published in From the Sugar Bowl by the American Sugar Cane League. Cookbooks can be ordered by calling the League office at 800-883-2875.
1 (18¼ ounce) cake mix
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple
1 cup white sugar
1 (3¾ ounce) package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 (12 ounce) package whipped topping
8 ounces sour cream
1 cup coconut
1 cup pecans
Bake cake according to directions on box. When cake is about to be removed from oven, mix crushed pineapple and sugar and let come to a boil. Spread on cake while mixture and cake are hot. While cake is cooling, prepare vanilla pudding and place on cooled cake. Mix sour cream and whipped topping together and place on top of pudding mix on cake. Garnish cake with coconut and coarsely chopped pecans. Refrigerate uneaten cake. Yield: 25 servings.