Springfield, Louisiana – At Landry-Poche Farms, the strawberries are hand planted, hand picked and hand packed. If you ask Rhonda Poche how many flats she’s packed in her lifetime, she’ll tell you the answer is too many to count.
With her father’s guidance, Rhonda has become known as “the strawberry lady.”
She’s a fourth generation strawberry farmer, fulfilling her grandfather’s dying wish.
“When my grandfather was 93 years old the last thing he said before passing away was, “Girl, you gotta keep the dream going,” she smiles.
Rhonda’s great grandfather is the one who planted the first crops; he was a merchant marine who came over from Italy. Family history says he caught the ‘fever’ and wasn’t allowed to go back on another ship, so he found a local girl and started a family and a strawberry farm.
The farm has been growing strawberries since 1926, and they’ve harvested crops every year but one: There were no berries for the 2016-2017 season, because of the flooding.
The water line is painted on the side of one of the packaging barns, in view of customers. It’s surrounded by Bible verses, including one that reads, “Don’t worry about anything. Pray about everything.”
“We lost all of our equipment our tractors, everything else,” says Rhonda; but they didn’t lose faith.
Not only did the farm survive, but it also thrived: winning Grand Champion at the 2018 Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival. For the Landry-Poche Farms, that was a back-to-back win, since the family also won the prize in 2016.
The farm is about one-third the size of what it was before the flood, with 80,000 plants currently in the ground.
Most family members have other jobs, but raising these crops and caring for the farm speaks to their souls and creates bonds that cannot be broken.
Rhonda says the income from the berry fields has helped pay for college, cars and some vacations.
She has two sons, and the youngest one plans to follow in her footsteps. In the meantime, his toddler daughter (Rhonda’s first grandchild) can often be found running among the crops in her tiny cowboy boots, picking berries.
It’s a sure and sweet bet that this tradition will continue to flourish.