Lafayette’s food economy turns to hustles old and new to stay afloat during the pandemic

Kevin Ardoin of Zydeco Gardens Photo by Travis Gauthier

The food industry and its supply chain are starting to buckle under the economic stress of the current health crisis. Some grocery stores are gasping to keep up with the demand for meat, poultry and produce. Restaurants are on limited operating capacity, suddenly leaving their suppliers with stockpiles. It’s caused a major gap in the food economy that some local farmers and restaurateurs are hustling to fill. 

Kevin Ardoin of Zydeco Farms is toying with retooling an old concept: direct-to-consumer marketing. CSAs, or community-supported agriculture, have been a popular way for people to buy fresh, local, seasonal food directly from farmers for several years now. Ardoin thinks a digital version of the CSA could help him and other farmers keep going while farmers markets are down for the count.

“We have started planting for spring, but it’s frightening not knowing what the market will look like. I was banking on attending as many farmers markets as we could to sell my produce and get my name out. I have restaurant sales lined up, but they may not be able to come back if this lasts much longer,” Ardoin says. He’s a small farmer, and his budget is tight. “I was relying heavily on investors, but then the crisis came, and all my investors had to back out due to their own challenges [from] the pandemic.”   

Ardoin and a group of other local farmers are putting their heads together to create a digital co-op and mobile pop-up markets for quick pick-up and delivery.

“A group of us have been involved in a farm training program and have become good friends,” he says. “We are brainstorming on starting a small co-op if we can get all the details ironed out with a CSA option. I would love to be able to start a small farm stand somewhere in North Lafayette.” 

Beyond the pandemic, filling in gaps in the food supply is a passion for Ardoin. He is working on opening Fightinville Fresh, a small farmers market on East Simcoe Road. “Just like everyone in the neighborhood, it hurt to see all the businesses close and leave the Northside. After Walmart and Shoppers Value closed, there were no options left to purchase healthy food.” These neighborhoods are considered food deserts — areas where access to fresh, healthy food is limited or nonexistent. Ardoin hopes to open the market in May, pending stay-at-home restrictions.  

In the meantime, Ardoin says his plan is to plant as much as he can. 

“Going forward we are trying to build a home delivery model where we bring the produce straight to your door. I’m working on setting up a website, and I’m offering delivery anywhere in the area. We will be offering a weekly box consisting of seasonal produce,” he says. People can get locally grown produce, including okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and peppers. 

“Our goal is to service areas of the community that don’t have access to good, fresh food. We are trying to keep the price of the boxes at around $25. We also intend to apply for SNAP certification so we can reach more customers.” 

To get more information, email Ardoin at [email protected] until the online portal is up and running. 

A delivery box of produce and eggs from Good Eats Kitchen

On the other side of the supply chain, local restaurants are flipping their model to continue to serve customers and get some form of revenue stream. Good Eats Kitchen specializes in fully cooked, fresh, healthy prepared meals.

“Our primary business model prior to the pandemic was that of grab-and-go retail brick and mortar stores with a very small e-commerce presence,” says owner Boyer Derise. Since the shutdown, Derise had to close two locations and consolidate operations out of his primary location in the Oil Center. “The past two weeks have been devastating,” he says. 

Forced to make a hard pivot, Good Eats launched a virtual grocery store, offering prepared meals, milk, eggs, butter, bread, deli meats, cheeses, a la carte veggies/fruits, beverages and coffee. “We really launched the program less than 24 hours from the initial thought, so we have some kinks to work out. We are working to elevate that model and bring more options to life,” says Derise. “It’s been quite successful thus far.” 

Derise notes that the model is a great way to support local vendor partners.  “We are working with Helical Outpost and Rêve Coffee Roasters by offering free delivery of their products to the community and being able to do so instantly by plugging their products into our existing e-commerce and logistics processes,” he says.

The most creative solution Good Eats has developed is the Chef Curated Produce Baskets. “It’s a bit of a grab bag or mystery box of sorts. Loads of fresh veggies and some fruit…all of the basics you would find at the grocery store,” he says. They have options from $25 to $75 and you can pretty much curate what you want in the box, and it all comes from local vendors. The items can all be purchased on the website for pre-order pickup at one of its stores or delivered free of charge until April 14.

Says Derise, “We are uniquely positioned as a result of our business model to be quite flexible and serve our community in an even greater capacity during these difficult times.”