“The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing” ~ President John F Kennedy
A social media campaign was recently posted looking for new public- private “partners”.
Some of you know bits and pieces of our story, but It has been on my heart to share our experience with a public- private partnership. Primarily, since I wish no one would have to go through the unjust Hell that we feel we were put through.
If you are considering partnering, I would first recommend reconsidering lol, then find good lawyer who is well versed in the state law . I would recommend NOT putting your heart and soul into the relationship and always having your guard up. If you think it is not about politics and money, then you are wrong.
For those of you who do not know me, I am Kacie Luckett. My husband Derek and I are 1st generation produce farmers. Almost twelve years ago, Derek was in school at LSU for horticulture when he came home one day and plowed up our back yard. He wanted to farm. Being the supportive wife I am, I went along with his crazy idea. We later leased then purchased thirty acres from Derek’s family and continued to farm “living the dream”.
If you know me, then you know I have the heart of a teacher. Prior to full time farming, I filled this passion as a Physical Therapist Assistant. Re teaching daily life skills after diagnosis, surgery, stokes, amputation. I enjoy helping to improve the lives of my patients and caregivers by sharing knowledge and life experiences.
This carried over into farming. Before I was a farmer, I was a consumer. I honestly didn’t know a farmer prior to farming, nor did I know much about Louisiana Agriculture. Where did my food come from?
I can teach my customers at the farmers market, roadside stand, and csa (community supported agricultural program) about farming. I share our farm life experiences, recipes, and tricks for storing, cooking, eating, growing produce.
My “teaching” passion, always lead me to want an agritourism operation. I knew the farm experience was missing from (my prior) consumer life. Farmers often get a bad rap, but I think it is because the consumer does not fully understand the how or whys of farming. We hosted a few events at our farm, including a “farm day” for our members every season but we quickly learned our farm was not set up for agritourism. We didn’t have room for parking etc. It was a true working farm.
In late 2017, we were presented with an opportunity to “partner” with the state of Louisiana and farm at a state owned historical site. At the time, this seemed like the fairytale, my dream come true. In early 2018, our contract/ cea was put into place. We followed the guidelines and recommendations and were ready to get started farming the land. Since the location was over an hour plus away from our home and current farm, in our contract we requested to have access to an old deplorable farmhouse on the back of the property. In the contract, we were granted access to fix (at our own expense) and “stay” in the farmhouse. Fixing it wasn’t a major issue, as we had contractors’ friends and family willing to help.
We worked diligently (weather permitting), pouring our hearts and souls into the property.
The land had not been maintained or farmed in several decades, so it needed a lot of work. Some of the work included bush hogging small brush, moving dead trees out of the way to plow, cutting dead limbs, building turn rows etc. This was very time consuming and financially costly.
In late September of 2018, we opened our corn maze and pumpkin patch. It was a dream come true to share farm experiences and see all the smiling faces. I was able to host field trips and teach children and adults about agriculture. Joy is seeing the customers walking thru a pumpkin patch picking out the perfect pumpkins. We provided educational games and activities throughout the corn maze and on the grounds. Our weekends were busy with families and friend enjoying the agricultural experience. We hosted several groups that ranged from churches, scouts, schools, birthday parties, etc.
Overall, 2018 was a great start to our 10-year lease. Like any business we had a lot of investments for the first year.
However, according to the Lt. Governor’s office the historical site saw a very significant increase in visitors and revenue for October 2018 compared to past years.
They received 10% from our admission and our yearly lease fee. The partnership saved the state money as they did not have to pay for maintenance and upkeep on the property. I would say the partnership was beneficial.
2019 began rough as we caught state employees picking our livelihood, strawberries crop without permission. Shortly after this, our 92k strawberry plants and crops flooded mother’s days weekend with about 13 inches of rain in a very short time. Farmers are resilient and we were still determined that this was going to work, but we needed to be out here full time. Farming is not a 9-5 job. Some crops do better when they are picked in the morning or late evenings. As we all know, working outside in the middle of the day in the summer has its complications. In 2019, We decided to sell our house and move to the farmhouse on the property. We sold our house after a few days on the market and moved our camper to the very back of the property to live in while we were renovating the farmhouse to stay in.
Once we moved, harassment from our neighbors a half a mile away began. The neighbors trespassed on our leased property, followed us, called the police on us for leaving light on and making noise (half a mile and two gates away), called organizations we are affiliated with and attempted to deface our business, marriage, and us personal. A state employees also found parish cameras on the property to monitor our activities.
During this time, I was forced to file a harassment complaint with the police department. We were fearful to continue to farm due to the measures the neighbors went to make it difficult. The False Accusations were extreme.
As the lessee, I felt we were never supported by the state in fighting off the bullying.
We were forced to move the camper and now told that we were no longer able to stay on state property.
We did complete a corn maze for 2019 but the effects of the prior events and lack of clarity and support took a toll on us.
I attempted to get a meeting with the Lt governor, as he oversees the public- private contact. I emailed and called from Early March 2020- October 2020. Scheduling 7 different meeting with his office. Each was canceled or rescheduled, by his office. Finally, we were able to meet. We discussed our concerns with little to no avail. Shortly, after our meeting, we were presented with items that the state felt were a breech in contract. We explained why they were not a breech and they accepted the response.
Despite everything, we were eventually evicted from our contract in December 2020. According to the state, it was no longer convenient or beneficial for them to partner with us.
I feel that the suffering from evil, money, politics, and scandal often get overlooked. However, I am confident that our God doesn’t sleep, and the associated parties will face repercussions.
My advice to anyone who wants to do business with the state is do not. This is your warning. No matter what they promise, Do not. Do not invest your time, money, and pour your heart and soul into something that can easily be ripped away for no tangible reason or for political reasons.
I don’t speak of it often but Derek and I along with our two children are still dealing with the long-term physical, mental, emotional, and financial stress of this “partnership” and continue to heal from the trauma of this experience.
This is just our personal experience. We are just farmers. Growing vegetables to feed our family and community. The life experiences and education aspect is just a little lagniappe.