Indigenous farmer seeds a traditional food system for Acadiana

Ida Aronson, steward of Raccoon Oak Farm, sits in the grass in front of several bright red flowers.
Ida Aronson, steward of Raccoon Oak Farm. Elliot Wade

On a mild March afternoon, Raccoon Oak Farm steward Ida Aronson sat at a table filled with slender tree saplings at the Fightinville Fresh Market. In partnership with Lobelia Commons’ Front Yard Orchards, Aronson’s inventory included pawpaw, American persimmon, American chestnut and pecan trees — all free to the public.

For Aronson, a United Houma Nation member, the saplings are an important first step in encouraging a return to Louisiana’s roots: an independent food system supported by native plants and traditional growing practices.

Ida Aronson delves into Raccoon Oak Farm’s mission.

“There are historical records of the colonists coming here and saying what an Eden it was, because there was literally food everywhere,” says Aronson. That Eden, Aronson notes, was the result of intentional cultivation from indigenous people. “Nature provides for us. So if we steward these plants and provide them what they need, they will provide us what we need.”

Aronson, who uses they/them pronouns, is new to Acadiana, but not to farming. Their farmstead in Breaux Bridge (on Ishak and Chitimacha lands), established in 2023, is a culmination of years of work in horticulture. Aronson was the founder and traditional plant and farm initiative manager of the United Houma Nation’s Yakani Ekelanna Community Garden and Food Forest, and is a founding member of the Bvlbancha Collective, a group of Indigenous people in the greater New Orleans Area who practice indigenous ceremonies such as wildcrafting, herbalism and regalia making.

At Raccoon Oak Farm, Aronson is experimenting with indigenous methods of growing native southeastern fruit and nut trees and bushes to promote native biodiversity.

“We live in a climate catastrophe now and things are changing so rapidly, that we need to both protect the plants that are lower down the bayous and along the coast to be able to make sure that they survive this climate catastrophe as well, as well as ourselves,” Aronson explains. 

Providing people with native plants acclimated to the climate is one way to prepare them for the changes that could come, especially plants that can offer sustenance. Food, Aronson believes, should be free. 

While Raccoon Oak Farm is in its infancy, plans for growth are already in motion. They’ve partnered with Arnaudville’s Atelier de la Nature to provide saplings, and will be putting on a bat house workshop in the coming months. Aronson also plans to sell their goods at the Fightinville Fresh Market as they come up.

Like the trees themselves, Aronson is in it for the long-haul:

“For somebody whose family is from this place and for a person that wants to stay in this place, we need to be building.”