October 22, 2005
Two representatives of Farm Aid, the organization Willie Nelson helped found, traveled to New Iberia to meet with Southern Mutual and scope out staging areas for delivery of much-needed hay to cattle farmers in parishes impacted by Hurricane Rita. (In Vermilion Parish alone, 25,000 head of cattle were lost and many others were stranded.)
On October 23, Sister Helen Vinton, SMHA’s Director of Life Quality, took Ted Quaday, Farm Aid Executive Director, and Program Associate Laura Freden, to tour the damaged area and meet with several farmers impacted by the hurricane. They couldn’t believe the devastation they saw. In some cases, the farmers explained that they had to burn fields to find and remove the debris that littered their fields (dead animals, refrigerators, sofas, parts of houses, propane tanks, etc.) Wherever you looked you could see large sections of marshland that had just risen up with all the marsh reeds attached and landed in cane fields. The debris has to be removed before harvester combines can be used again in the fields or the equipment will be wrecked. Usually South Louisiana produces a half-billion-dollar cane crop, but this year, it is estimated that about half of that is lost, and what the farmers are harvesting has, in many instances, been standing in salt water. All of this has added to the cost of harvesting.
SMHA’s cooperation with Farm Aid is an example of how SMHA uses the relationships and social capital it has built up over the years to get aid, relief and redevelopment accomplished–without people standing in lines, without dehumanizing qualifications and interrogations, and without completion of endless forms that sit in file cabinets. Instead Southern Mutual quietly gathers information in the community about who are the most vulnerable and the hardest hit and then acts with its partners.