by Claire LeBeouf
Writer & Special Sections
When Kimber Ratcliff, Chris Ledet and Nancy Bernard discussed the idea of opening a local garden, they never expected that two months later they would break ground with the help of Catholic Charities and quickly become one of the most successful charitable organizations in the area.
The original St. Francis Vegetable Garden, which is located behind the Thibodaux CivicCenter, has grown into the size of a football field that is home to fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of underlying meaning. The garden, which was started in memory of founder Chris Ledet’s father who was an avid gardener, now serves the community in more ways than one. It offers not only a place for volunteers to come together, but a place where food is grown with the purpose of helping those in need. All of the food grown in the garden goes directly to the local food bank as a way for the needy to receive healthy food choices.
While most people think of a garden as a small patch of land in a backyard, Ratcliff sees it as an opportunity to build a sense of community. With the garden now expanding to different locations, Ratlciff, Ledet and Bernard are seeing their dream come to life.
“When we started our organization, we wanted to make it possible for gardens like ours to be in parishes across the state. With the addition of the Southdown location in Houma, the food banks in Terrebonne Parish will have fresh produce to distribute at the food bank,” says Ratcliff. “Teachers in Terrebonne Parish now have a free living outdoor classroom to visit with their students.”
The success of the garden is something that Ratcliff believes is not only a reward, but something that is very important to share with the younger generation of garden enthusiasts.
“Watching children who visit the garden eat veggies they just picked, learning about where their food comes from, and healthy eating is rewarding,” says Ratcliff. “Not only are they learning about health and wellness they are learning to help those most in need in their community.”
The garden’s mission to serve and build community has spread from Thibodaux to Houma. The garden’s produce is featured in the weekly Rienzi Market and gives people in the surrounding areas an opportunity to access fresh, local foods and support the ones who grew them. Also, with the garden branching out to locations in different schools, it is able to bring the teachers, parents and students together for a good cause.
“Teachers and parents use the garden as place to teach lessons in science, nutrition and community giving,” says Ratcliff. “Children see up close how food grows and have the opportunity to pick vegetables, snack on them and take some home to share with their family.”
The St. Francis Vegetable Garden serves many purposes and strengthens families, schools and communities. Working for the greater good of the Thibodaux and Houma areas, the garden proves that it is certainly special and one of a kind.