ROANOKE — A crawfish farm tour Thursday gave students from First Baptist Christian Academy in Moss Bluff a chance to see first-hand how Louisiana's favorite food goes from the field to the dinner table.
Fifteen second-graders and their parents, along with visitors from Oklahoma and Arkansas, spent the morning touring a local crawfish farm and processing plant as part of an agriculture tour sponsored by the Jeff Davis Parish Tourism Commission. The tours run from March to May, during the crawfish harvest season.
"We want the groups to experience where the food comes from and understand the cultural importance of crawfish to Louisiana and it's people," local crawfish farmer Burt Tietje said.
Tietje, who farms more than 120 acres of "red swamp" crawfish, rice and vegetables just off Interstate 10 in Roanoke, opens his 65-acre crawfish pond he fondly calls "Crawfish Heaven" to school children, travel groups, travel writers and tourists each spring.
"This is where our food comes from….this is where it starts," Tietje said. "Every time you pick up a fork a farmer somewhere is growing that food that goes on the box in the shelf on your mama's pantry.
"Farmers grow all the food that keep us alive everyday."
In all, he harvests nearly 80,000 pounds of crawfish a year, though production has been down this year.
"We don't know why crawfish do what they do, but it's been slow this year because of the weather and other factors," he said, adding that more sun is needed to make them grow and become more active. "The good news is they are huge."
Teacher Jennifer Penney said the students have been studying living things and took part in the tour to learn about living things in the area and how crawfish helps the area.
"I hope they have a lot of hands-on fun and learn more about crawfish," Penney said. "It's a good opportunity to learn outside the classroom."
She said the students will use what they learn from the field trip to create drawings and writing assignments on the steps the crawfish take from the ponds to being sold.
Tietje said Louisiana produces nearly 150 million pounds of crawfish a year worth $210 million with Jeff Davis and Acadia parishes producing 100,000 acres of crawfish resulting in 60 million pounds worth $90 million.
The I-10 Crawfish Co-op, located a short drive from Tietje's farm, where some 50 local farmers sell their field grown crawfish to restaurants and other buyers is also part of the tour. There the students learned how crawfish are cleaned, graded and distributed.
"My job is to produce as many crawfish as possible, his job is to find buyers and sell them," he said.
The crawfish end up in restaurants and other markets throughout south Louisiana as well as in Texas and Arkansas.