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Rodney Simoneaux’s Gold Standard

Rodney Simoneaux of Assumption Parish is surveying a wet field on the north side of Highway 38. Even though it’s late November, he’s hoping it will dry up enough to plant sugarcane. The tract was filled with spoil from a summer Bayou Lafourche dredging project. It’s part of the plan to send more water down the bayou for coastal restoration, Rodney said.

It was too wet for Rodney to plant in the summer and he was holding out hope that he might get a chance to plant it in December. He’s not sure.

Back in 1982 Rodney wasn’t quite sure if he was going to be a sugarcane farmer. His father and uncle were sugarcane farmers. His maternal and paternal grandparents were dairymen with a bit of sugarcane on the side. It seemed like the farming life was pre-ordained for him.

Young Rodney, however, was having fun. He was living the, carefree college life and studying agronomy at Louisiana State University where he was an associate to Dr. Laren Golden and Dr. Ray Ricou and working alongside Dr. Kenneth Gravois, who was Dr. Golden’s assistant.

“I got my degree and interviewed for a job with Halliburton,” Rodney said. “My professor said to take the job if they offered me a good salary.”

Halliburton did offer him a good job, but Rodney had other things on his mind. He took a job maintaining the LSU golf course.

Was Rodney too caught up in ivory tower life? It was touch and go, he admits, but ultimately there was a method to his madness.

“I had taken a turf management class and was cutting grass at the golf course,” Rodney said. “I was kind of aimless. I didn’t want to give up that college life.”

Rodney has a certain twinkle in his eye. On the surface he seems to be a bit mischievous and folks down Bayou Lafourche would not have been surprised if Rodney managed to live out his life cultivating turf and driving golf carts at English Turn.

Then Rodney got a phone call from back home.

“Daddy called and said, ‘Are you interested in coming back to the farm?’” Rodney said. “I said yes.”

Rodney worked in the laboratory at Glenwood Co-Op Sugar Mill and for his father, U.B. Simoneaux, for three years until the severe freeze of 1989. Even though the freeze was devastating, he never looked back.

Rodney’s son, Stephen, 30, is now farming alongside his father. He’s a lot like his dad – cheerful and always smiling.

“Stephen, like me, never indicated he was interested in farming,” Rodney said.

Rodney manages 1,000 acres while Stephen runs another 500. Rodney is very active with the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation and works with LSU AgCenter to host an annual sugarcane field day in Napoleonville. But he and his wife, Michele, are probably best known at the present as the parents of three daughters, two who have been selected as Louisiana Farm Bureau queens and Sugarcane Festival queens.

“My oldest daughter, Sarah Elizabeth was a Washington D.C. Mardi Gras princess,” Rodney said. “Mary Claire was Assumption Parish’s first state Farm Bureau queen. She also won the Sugarcane Festival queen’s crown. And then Rebecca followed in her footsteps. She also won Farm Bureau and the Sugarcane Festival queen contest.”

How did that happen?

“We go to the Farm Bureau convention in New Orleans every year,” Rodney explained. “All the kids would take over the hotel every year. It was better than Disneyworld for them.

“On the pageant night, my girls would go and sit right in front of stage and took it all in. When they were young girls we never once thought they’d have an aspiration to participate in the contest. Then they were in four pageants and they won four times. They sat there and watched and aspired. They wanted to be Farm Bureau queens. They worked out here on the farm and did what they had to do to win and they never lost.” There’s always a certain amount of adversity in anyone’s life and Rodney has experienced a share. He lost part of a finger to a sugarcane harvester.

“You can always tell the cutters from the loaders,” he joked. “The cutters all have an appendage missing.”

A more serious calamity came in 2000 when he was struck by Guillain-Barrésyndrome, a disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“I was aching all over and thought I had the flu,” Rodney said. “I kept on working but it got to where I was just in pain.

He ended up in the hospital for 69 days and then several more months in rehab re-training his body to do the basics like sitting and walking. Fortunately, his body responded. He overcame the disease and he happy to be alive and lucky to be a farmer.

“With 10 weeks in the hospital and eight months of rehab, I was not able to work,” Rodney said. “My father had to come out of retirement to run the farm. He and my three brothers, along with

Just about every farmer in the parish got the crop planted and harvested.

“It was extremely humbling to experience so much selflessness from my fellow farmers. If the cliché that a man’s wealth is measured by the friends he has is true, then I am the gold standard.”

Rodney feels lucky to be a farmer.

“When people ask me why I chose farming as my occupation, I tell them there are easier ways to make a living, but there is none that are better,” Rodney said.”Every morning I wake up, get dressed, and walk across the street to my parent’s house for breakfast. After visiting with mom and pop and reading the newspaper, I walk to the tractor shed with a smile on my face.

“I had three older brothers and I wanted to be like them. One of my favorite memories was being out in the field with my big brothers. We’d get called in for dinner and they’d always give me a head start. I would take off running for the door but they’d chase me and somehow I would end up always being the last one in.”

Family and farming. It’s the gold standard.

Photo captions: (Top) Rodney Simoneaux; (Bottom) Stephen and Rodney Simoneaux in a sugarcane field off La. Hwy. 308.

Story by Sam Irwin, January 2017


Low-calorie sweetener use in kids jumps 200%, study finds

Americans are scarfing down more and more low-calorie sweeteners, and researchers are raising some concerns.

The consumption of low-calorie sweeteners jumped a whopping 200% among children and 54% among adults from 1999 to 2012, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics October/November 2016 issue.

No doubt there’s a lot of pressure on the food and beverage industry to develop a lower-sugar, low-calorie sweetener. Artificial sweeteners can be found in such products as diet sodas, powdered drink mixes, sugar-free ice cream and light yogurts. But many scientists believe more research is needed to study how low-calorie sweeteners influence appetite, weight management and chronic disease risk. READ THE STORY


Mardi Gras King Cake!

It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana and everyone’s having king cake. How did the king cake tradition begin and more importantly, how can I bake my own king cake?

The popular Mardi Gras king cake is more accurately known as the kings’ cake. It is baked to honor the gifts of the Magi, the three kings who gave gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus on the twelfth night (the Epiphany) after his birth.

In some Mediterranean cultures it became custom during the Middle Ages to give gifts to children, as the three kings did, on Twelfth Night, the final day of the Christmas season.

Church pageants involved horsemen, ornately costumed as the Magi, parading through the streets. The procession ended at the steps of the cathedral as the celebrants presented their gifts at the Christmas crib.

Families celebrated the last day of Christmastide by baking a kings’ cake to represent the Magi. A coin was placed inside the cake and the person who received the piece of cake with the coin was declared “king.” The custom was later expanded to include a bean and a pea, making the respective finders “king” and “queen.”

In Medieval France the lucky coin finder was expected to make a contribution to the education of an underprivileged child or some other worthy cause.

The French kings’ cake tradition was brought to New Orleans and has since evolved. It was not unusual for a baker to substitute the coin with a tiny toy baby.

Modern tradition hold that the person who receives the cake piece with the baby is required to buy a king cake for the next gathering.

The kings’ cake is served throughout the Epiphany season from Twelfth Night through Mardi Grasads. For some, Mardi Gras is nothing more than a last debauchery before the penance of Lent. Those who appreciate history, tradition and custom know the kings’ cake, Mardi Gras balls and parades are derived from a centuries old European tradition.

Source – The Haydel’s Bakery (New Orleans) history scroll by Monsignor Henry C. Bezou, included in every king cake shipment.

Ingredients for the cake

  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Several gratings of fresh nutmeg

Ingredients for the icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars
  • 1 fève (fava bean) or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking

Method of Preparation:

  1. For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
  2. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.
  3. After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.
  4. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it proof, or rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.
  6. Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
  7. For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more condensed milk; if it’s a touch too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.
  8. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet. Tuck the fève or plastic baby into the underside of the cake and, using a spatula, slide the cake onto a platter.

Recipe by John Besh from

Photo caption: The Haydel boys baking up king cakes at Haydel Bakery in New Orleans. (photo by Sam Irwin).

Wearable sugarcane!

You don’t have to climb very far on a Louisiana family tree to find someone connected to the sugarcane industry. Show them some love by showing your colors. Get the popular
Louisiana Sugarcane logo on your hat, your shirt, even a set of glasses.

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