Scouts harvest for food bank at Lamar-Dixon

Lester Kenyon
Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and volunteers surround almost 3,000 pounds of turnips and mustard greens that were donated Saturday to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. The volunteers harvested the vegetables from the grounds of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts from the surrounding three-parish area harvested almost 3,000 pounds of fresh turnips and mustard greens from the grounds of Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and donated them to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank Saturday afternoon.

Scouts from the Istrouma Area Council's Cypress Chauve District, which includes Ascension, St. James and Iberville Parishes, converged on the grounds just after noon to unearth the vegetables from the rich, dark soil.

Ascension Parish Recreation employee Richard Gautreaux said the vegetable harvesting tradition began last year when a local master gardener planted an abundance of vegetables on the grounds which led to the donation of the crops to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.

Gautreaux approached Parish President Tommy Martinez with the idea of donating the harvested vegetables and received his full support.

“Any time you can help those in need, especially with food, then it's a win-win situation that we all need to try and accomplish,” Martinez said. “These kids are amazing.”

Michael Manning, president and CEO with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, said the scouts gathered 2,990 pounds of vegetables which equates to approximately 2,300 meals.

Manning said the fresh produce will go to a warehouse facility in Baton Rouge where they have refrigerators and coolers to keep the food fresh. He said the vegetables will be sorted into smaller containers that will be distributed to the poor in the area.

“It's not unusual to have an event like this,” Manning said. “But it is unusual to have an event of this size.”

“Last year (local master gardener) Mike Bourgeois planted pumpkins and turnips and I planted some too,” Gautreaux said while helping the scouts bag turnips.

Gautreaux said parish crews, led by foreman Lyle Schexnaydre, removed more than 500 damaged and nuisance trees at Lamar-Dixon leaving behind large fields with the rich soil.

“This is why we have so many turnips and mustard greens growing here and it's all maintenance-free,” Gautreaux said.

Gautreaux contacted his niece, Erica Babin, district commissioner for the Cypress Chauve District, to see if the scouts could help with the harvesting. Scouts from Packs 942, 399, 249, 778 and 377, along with Troops 69, 65, 377 and the Prairieville Girl Scouts joined in the effort.

“A big part of scouting is giving back to the community and hopefully this will be one of many projects to come,” Babin said. “Plus, the scouts are getting service hours that will go towards their next rank.”

Babin said volunteer Kassie Campbell contacted the Food Bank and set up the event for the food donation. Manning was on hand to help with the loading of vegetables into the Food Bank's truck.

Manning said the Greater Baton Rouge Food  Bank started in 1984 out of the trunks of cars at the Victoria Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. Since then, it has grown to serve 11 parishes including Ascension Parish through 125 agencies. Last year alone, the Food Bank moved over 11 million pounds of food in this area, he said.

“It's just marvelous to see these kids give so much,” Gautreaux said while surveying the youngsters around him with dirt-covered hands. “These kids are our future and this is what it's all about.”

Local Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts get down and dirty to unearth turnips and mustard greens at Lamar-Dixon Saturday. The vegetables were donated to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.