A lot has changed in southeastern Lafayette Parish since Eddie “Boss Man” Lewis Sr., 72, was a young man.
Pinhook Road east of the Vermilion River was a two-lane highway all the way to Broussard. Sugarcane occupied the real estate populated by oil field support companies north of Pinhook to Hwy 90, which was not yet the “future corridor of Interstate 49.” Ambassador Caffery Parkway was still a dream and the only reason for Lafayette city folks to motor out to Verot School Road was to dance the night away at the legendary Hamilton’s club, a jumpin’ zydeco music dance hall.
It seems like the only thing that hasn’t changed in the Lozes community on Austin Rd. (Hwy. 89) is that the Lewis family is still farming sugarcane and sweet potatoes off Linden Lewis Road. Throw in a couple of hogs, some cattle, chickens and a backyard vegetable garden and the Lewis farm is not that far removed from the way “daddy and them” used to farm.
There are a couple of well-maintained rubber-tire wooden yam wagons that look like they might have been pulled by a mule not that long ago and a 1960 Allis-Chalmers diesel tractor Boss Man still uses in the sweet potato and corn field.
“Be sure to tell everybody I’m still selling sweet potatoes,” Eddie Lewis Sr. said. In accordance with Boss Man’s request, if you want to get some fresh sweet potatoes (probably from the last farmer growing yams in Lafayette Parish) call Eddie Lewis Sr. at 337-319-3375. His sweet potatoes are so fresh you’ll want to slap them.
The biggest change, however, on Linden Lewis Road is that a whole new generation of Lewis men are driving the tractors.
Boss Man’s grandchildren, 30-year-old Eddie J. Lewis III, Jordan Lewis, 25, and 15-year-old Hunter Lewis, have all claimed their positions in the Lewis operation.
Eddie III never planned on being a farmer because his father, Eddie Jr. and Boss Man, had the situation under control.
The two older men were making a living farming, so Eddie III went to college and found a good job at a local bank. Brother Jordan, a rookie farmer, was just out of college. Hunter was doing a man’s work on the farm but still a teenaged student at Comeaux High School.
But plans are plans and reality doesn’t always cooperate with plans. Eddie Jr. (Eddie III, Jordan and Hunter’s father) died unexpectedly at age 49 in the cab of his tractor doing what he loved best: farming in the fields.
With the 2011 sugarcane crop in the field ready for harvest, Eddie Jr.’s death was a shock and hardship that Boss Man and his grandsons had to overcome.
A source of strength for Jordan and Eddie III came from an unexpected place: kid brother Hunter.
“After my father passed, I took it hard,” Eddie III said. “But Hunter said ‘Let’s go to work.’ Hunter kept me and Jordan going.
“I was a stockbroker. Hunter was the one that was out here at four o’clock in the morning. Hunter knows the business.
He pretty much showed me and Jordan what to do.”
“I think the most surprising thing about Hunter was, the day after my dad passed, he got on the same tractor my dad died in and got us moving,” Jordan said.
Eddie III said his grandfather also is an immovable force on the farm. He and Jordan speak in quiet reverential tones when they talk about Eddie Sr.
“That old man doesn’t play with us,” Eddie III said. “He makes sure we get it.”
Eddie Sr. is passing on his love of the sweet potato crop to his grandchildren.
“This past year he showed me how to plant sweet potatoes and learn the varieties,” Jordan said. “This year we planted the Evangeline variety. They’re pretty good. They’re pretty sweet and people enjoy them.”
While Boss Man is making sure the upcoming generation is grounded in the basics of farming, Eddie III
is doing his part to protect Louisiana’s sugarcane industry. He made his first lobbying trip to Washington D.C. in February with other sugarcane growers on a trip organized by the American Sugar Cane League. Eddie III lobbied Congress to maintain a strong national sugar policy favorable to Louisiana sugar and other American sugar producers.
“There are a lot of forces, that if they had their way, would put us out of business,” Eddie III said. “Big candy companies are making record profits. I’m also for making profits so I have to represent what is good for my farming interests so me and my brothers and my grandfather can make money too. A fair sugar policy gives American producers a fair chance to compete in the market. ”
Eddie Sr. recognizes his heritage as a sugarcane farmer and plans on farming until, well, until he can’t.
“Linden Lewis was my great-grandfather,” he said. “We’ve been here six generations.”
Neighborhood subdivisions have been putting pressure on the Youngsville area for more than 30 years. The land pressure was one of the reasons Eddie III decided to throw in with his grandfather and brothers.
“We know we (farmers) are kind of an endangered species,” Eddie III said with a laugh. “That’s why I left the stockbroker business but it was an easy decision. This was where I wanted and needed to be.”
And the Lewis brothers will carry on the farming tradition like their father did and Boss Man did and great-great-great-great-grandfather Linden Lewis did. That’s why they call it family farming.
By Sam Irwin