After 5 generations, Bayou Goulas family says goodbye to cane farming

BAYOU GOULA, LA (WAFB) - Clusters of green balloons ride a stiff breeze across Mohawk Sugar Plantation. Charles Landry and his three sons have plowed the rich gumbo mud for 50 years. "We started in right over here in Bayou Goulas with my hungry wife and three skinny children." he remembers. "It just blossomed from there."

Back then, Landry had one tractor and a single mule to plant and harvest his sugar cane. "He was as contrary as anything can be." He would work the fields with an eye on the window of the wood-frame house on the front of the property. "When there was a diaper in the window, that meant the coffee was ready."

Landry's son, Chuck was just six months old when he first set foot on the farm. He and his brothers  Antoine and Camille, are the fifth generation of Landry's to grow cane along the Mississippi River. He clears a frog from his throat as he greets the family and friends gathered on a stubble field where his dad planted his first crop. It's the final day of grinding, the sugar cane harvest, and this one is bittersweet. "Today is the day it all ends," he says, dark shades hiding any emotion in his eyes. But his voice betrays his calm exterior. "There are some uncertainties."

After five generations, the Landry's are calling it quits. A combination of cheap sugar flooding the market from Mexico and increasing equipment costs are driving the last generation of Landry farmers off the land. "I don't like to see the end of anything, especially cane farming." says Charles Landry.

"It's a strange feeling. Bittersweet," says Charles' youngest son Camille as he mounts the harvester at the far end of the field for one last time. "It's not really sunk in yet. But as time rolls, it will."

As the combine eases forward, teeth on the front chew through cane stalks dried brown in from last week's freeze. It chops the stalks into six-inch billets before spitting them into a trailer that crawls along next to it while the family watches from the far end of the last row of cane on the Landry farm.

Some document the moment on their cell phones, but the Chuck and Antoine separate themselves from the rest to watch as the life they have always known slowly disappears. Antoine is sad to see the farm go, but wants more for his children. "I have two sons. I want them to get a college education and go into something less erratic."

Chuck is more philosophical, remembering what his father taught him about the land. "If you want anything, you have to work hard. And you have to be patient. It had some good times. It had some bad times. I wouldn't change anything."

Camille sounds the horn on the combine as he finishes the last stalks fall. His waiting family release balloons and pop the cork on the champagne. "I don't have to get up at two in the morning," Camille jokes. He says he'll sleep in until at least six. "That's late."

"As my dad told me," says Charles to his now grown sons, "You have to love the land, and love what you're doing. If you choose to do something in your life, make sure it's something you like, or you'll never give it 100 percent."

It's advice the Landry boys have taken to heart all their lives. And no matter where their next endeavors take them, Charles says the farm won't be far from their hearts. "I have a lot of good friends and cousins that still farm. If I get lonesome, I got a place to play in the dirt somewhere."

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