Founded in July 2019, Le Potager d'Acadiana was started by Jonathan Olivier, a Louisianan who is passionate about sustainable farming, Louisiana French, and providing new ways to engage on both levels with his community.
"In Louisiana, our musicians and artists get a lot of attention for advancing the language, but I think if we really want to advance our cause and culture, ordinary folks like me need to take the effort to speak French with our clients or in our daily lives whenever we can, tout partout," he explains.
Olivier is first and foremost excited by the opportunities and richness of the community and terrain in Southern Louisiana. He is deeply rooted to his family's connections to the St. Landry and St. Martin parishes that have been in Louisiana for generations and recognized his affinity for reconnecting with the earth and with his Francophone and Créolophone roots. The last generation who lived solely in French was the generation of his grandparents, and it became his mission to revive his own relationship to the French language while encouraging others in his community to have access to do the same.
Olivier recollects that it was through his travels across the United States and Canada that inspired him to start the Le Potager d'Acadiana. As he worked as a farm intern and freelance journalist, he began piecing together what mattered most to him in the intersections of language, geography, and agriculture. As he continued his journeys in the summer of 2018, he recollects:
"As I was planning to travel to Michigan, I realized how close to Canada I would be. I decided to plan a farm stay in Quebec, and I would travel to Acadie to visit the place of my ancestors. In the months leading up to the trip, I studied via language apps to brush up on French. It all came flooding back after an 8-year hiatus, so that by the time I entered Quebec, I was picking up phrases and words I hadn't used since childhood. Almost as soon as I arrived in Quebec, I was astounded by the visibility of French, and inspired by the passion that the Quebecois had for their language. Once I entered New Brunswick and witnessed bilingualism working perfectly, I questioned why this didn't exist in Louisiana. For the first time in my life, I questioned why we had let our heritage languages in Louisiana fade away to the extent that they had. And for the first time in my life, that made me incredibly angry. I felt that I was robbed of an ancestral gift, a right, that should've been passed onto me. Before I left Canada, I realized that I had to continue my journey back to French."
Olivier eventually received a scholarship from CODOFIL to attend a 5-week French immersion program at the University of Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia, and in the spring of 2019, Olivier spent a month in Quebec as a farm intern up until the program at St-Anne began. After having honed in his skills in the realms of agriculture and French, Olivier returned to Louisiana in July 2019, more confident in both skills, and started his farm, Le Potager d'Acadiana.
At the Lafayette Farmers Market, Olivier provides fresh, seasonal produce every Saturday morning and also shares images of his produce to the Instagram page of the farm @lepotageracadiana, whose posts are in French. In-person, Olivier greets every customer with bonjour, allowing them the opportunity to conduct their business in French if they so choose. Oliver keeps a record of how many people he spoke French to at each market because he believes Le Potager d'Acadiana stands as a perfect case study for the need for French services in public in Southern Louisiana.
Olivier notes that "most days I only got a handful (5-10) of francophones, but other days I'd get upwards of 20. These included locals, transplants, or tourists. The response to seeing someone young, speaking French, and offering service in French was incredible [and] eventually I developed regular francophone customers who shopped at my booth every weekend."
As someone proud of the multiple opportunities and languages that exist in Southern Louisiana, Olivier also authored "Lâche pas les langues de la Louisiane" in March 2020, where he poetically describes his region in gastronomical terms: "As diverse as a bowl of gumbo, containing elements derived from all across the world, south Louisiana became a cultural stew, unlike any region in the rest of the state, let alone the country."
Le Potager d'Acadiana hopes to eventually host seasonal francophone interns and farm tours in French. For now, Olivier keeps a regular online presence in French and continues to service his customers in French.
Tune in to The North American Francophone Podcast starting Sunday, 14 June 2020 for an exclusive interview with Jonathan Olivier about language, agriculture, and his Franco-American voice.
Article by Claire-Marie Brisson