St. Charles Herald-Guide

Zeringue's Vegetable Farm

By Kyle Barnett - July 20, 2012

A small light blue and green vegetable stand with chicken wire covering much of the front and a tin corrugated roof on top marks the spot of Zeringueís Farm in Taft.

The farm, which has 65 workable acres and 188 acres altogether, is located on River Road right next door to Dow Chemical.

Behind the vegetable stand is the Zeringue family home, a large plantation house where 70-year-old James "J-Bo" Zeringue said 19 children in his family, including himself, have been raised. Behind the home are numerous outbuildings including an old slave house.

"Itís under the historical list, the house is too. We put that under the historical list in the past few years," Zeringue said. "All the outside walls on that house are filled with brick, horse hair, lime and river sand as mortar."

Behind the old slave house is a greenhouse where Zeringue grows his most prized crop–the Creole tomato.

"People are after tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes," Zeringue said. "I very seldom eat a tomato once my crop is finished. I do without it, but when they start ripening I give them hell–sometimes as high as eight or nine tomatoes a day."

The tomato crop finished just last week to the dismay of both Zeringue and a woman who approached his stand at the German Coast farmerís market in Luling where he is a regular vendor.

"Are you out of tomatoes?!" the woman said.

"Yes maíam we are," Zeringue said.

"They were good while they lasted," the woman said.

"Not long enough. I tried to make them last longer, but I wasnít successful yet this year," Zeringue said.

Zeringue said he starts the tomato crop in late December and early January, but this year he has planted a late row of tomatoes with the hope that temperatures will stay warm enough in October for them to ripen.

"I am trying to stretch nature," Zeringue said.

Zeringue said his family has been farming in the area for as long as he can remember. He said he took up farming as a child when he began helping his father, who in turn started farming with his grandfather when he was a child.

"His daddy was originally a traveling blacksmith," Zeringue said. "He used to travel from plantation to plantation fixing all of the equipment and he got tired of that so he went on Live Oak and started farming Live Oak and rented the place."

Zeringueís father and two brothers bought the Taft farm back in 1948. He said the first thing they had to do was clear the fields.

"When we bought it all of this was in trees," Zeringue said. "With mules and two man saws and fire we cleaned it up."

Zeringue said they also used mules to plow the fields until the early Ď70s.

"We worked mules here–I worked mules here. I made the mules pull a harrow, a plow," Zeringue said. "We had mules here from í48 until it was probably í70 or í72 that one of them passed away and we bought another one. When those two passed away we never got any more."

Zeringue said his brother recently revived the family tradition of keeping mules, but only for nostalgiaís sake.

"He bred the horse with the jackass to raise the mule just to be able to say he raised the mule," Zeringue said.

In addition to the mule they have other livestock, including a few horses and 45 head of cattle.

Zeringue said he did not start farming full time until he lost his job of 21 years when Becker Industries, a local fertilizer manufacturer, started laying people off before going out of business.

 

"When I lost my job at Becker my daddy retired and I started the farm. I just went right on. I never stopped. He said you take over the farm and Iím going to help you," Zeringue said. "He quit school in the seventh grade and he was 76 when he died. He retired six months before he died."

Zeringue said he now splits his time between his job as a lawn mower mechanic for St. Charles Public Schools, where he has been working for the past 22 years, and the farm.

"I am full time both places," Zeringue said.

Zeringue said his father taught him how to farm successfully.

"My daddy always said you can make a living at farming, but itís a hard life and you are not going to get rich. You can make a living if you do it right, but youíve also got to work with old equipment," Zeringue said. "If you expect to be in air conditioning and all that and pay money to have all that stuff fixed you are going to lose your money. You have got to be able to take the heat."

Those who are regulars to the German Coast Farmerís Markets on both the East and West banks may recognize Zeringue.

"When we first started coming to the farmerís market nine years ago all we were coming with was what I grew normally like the summer crop tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers stuff like that," Zeringue said. "Well, people ask about banana peppers and they ask about this and they ask about that and Iíll start trying to grow it. I started looking at the seed catalog."

Zeringue said by trying to cater to the appetites of his customers he has diversified his crop and now offers up to 37 different vegetables at the farmerís market.

Zeringueís daughter Jamie Hue, who helps her father at the farm and farmerís market along with her daughters, said the family started growing things that are not ordinarily part of the Southeastern Louisiana diet.

"Stuff like the rutabaga. People from the north–northern cold states are used to eating rutabagas," Hue said. "The rutabaga crop that we did do, after people started tasting them, I think it was more of a success than when it started."

Zeringue said he tries different crops all of the time.

"This is all trial and error from trying to make it grow and make the people want to come here," Zeringue said. "The more you got the more they want to come."

Zeringue said he hopes to retire from the school in the next few years and focus solely on farming, but he is not sure if his daughter or two sons will take will take over his stake in the farm once heís gone.

"Somebody in the family might, but I donít think so. Everybody is working other places they make more money," Zeringue said. "Iím going to die in the field if I can."

Zeringue's Vegetable Farm