A Calling For The Fields Of Iberia Parish
● By Robert Frey
Kristie BlanchardBy Suzanne Ferrara
Kristie Blanchard, 48, Iberia Parish’s new Registrar of Voters, has worn plenty of hats in her lifetime. And… she continues to do so.
The mother of two and grandmother of a one-month old, worked at the Iberia Parish Clerk of Court’s office for 18 years, spent eight additional years working at the Iberia Parish Registrar of Voters office, and was a Deputy Registrar for St. Martin Parish’s Registrar of Voters office. And that’s not all: while working at the courthouse, she also held jobs with a fertilizer plant and at an attorney’s office.
With so many years at the clerk’s office under her belt, it’s not surprising she knew what the post entailed; in fact, she had the details down like the back of her hand. “I walked right in and knew what to do,” says an excited Blanchard. Now, Blanchard admits she doesn’t like the politics that goes with elections; however, following her love of helping voters practice their first amendment rights more than makes up for it. “I love working with the public, especially the older people who need help with the new technology. I just love hearing their stories. I have compassion for them,” Blanchard adds. Blanchard replaced longtime Registrar Mildred Adams, who retired after serving more than 30 years in office in order to spend more time with her family.
But while her passion is certainly working with the public, there’s another cause – or we should say “crop” – deep inside Blanchard’s heart, one that keeps her very involved in the community: Sugarcane.
She comes by it quite naturally. Blanchard is the wife of sugarcane farmer Lane Anthony Blanchard, and it’s through their long relationship that a whole new world began to unfold in her life. But before delving into the passion she carries for farmers, you should know the work she—and a number of her supporters – has done to help support the industry and the ensure survival of Iberia Parish’s beloved Sugarcane Festival.
Blanchard is the 2017 Vice President of the Sugarcane Festival Association and the director of the Teche Growers Association. She says she and her team have worked tirelessly on the festival, and their efforts are paying off in a variety of ways. “Our numbers went up! An additional 1,000 people came downtown for the whole weekend!” Blanchard believes all the changes that were made are the primary reasons for the increased attendance. “We made a big impression by moving the fair to the old Iberia Co-Op site; the parking was great, and we had so many compliments from public.” Blanchard also credits the choices of musicians brought in to entertain the crowds.
Additionally, Blanchard helped rally the farmers from the Teche Growers Association who collectively lent a big hand, and made themselves available for the festival. It’s truly a team effort, according to Blanchard. “On downtown Main Street, people were able to talk to the farmers, and several of my husband’s restored antiques and cane cutters were on display so that after the children’s parade kids could go and touch the equipment.”
Blanchard’s sons, who naturally were born into the sugarcane industry, were on hand to help with the festival, and that group included her son Zachary’s wife, Jessica. Blanchard clearly empathizes with her daughter-in-law who is now walking the same steps Kristie has done for years. “It’s not easy being the wife of a farmer, and it takes a special woman to be married to a farmer. It is a twelve-month operation, and I’ve gotten used to it because it is part of my lifestyle.” In addition to long hours, Blanchard knows just how volatile the industry can be because there are so many factors—weather, economy, equipment, labor – that play roles in the successful harvest of a crop.
Keeping the 200-year-old industry alive has never been more important for Acadiana and, specifically, Iberia Parish. “The Sugarcane Festival is one of the most important celebrations for Iberia Parish,” explains Blanchard, who has clearly taken this to heart. Her understanding has fueled her passion in what happens in the fields, to the families, and, subsequently, the growth of Iberia Parish. “The sugarcane families and the farmers are so important to us, and with the economy being like it is, if they weren’t in Iberia and the surrounding Acadiana parishes, it would be bad.”
As with nearly everything, the passing years have brought about change. Bigger operations have squeezed out many of the small farmers, and thus changed the make-up of those involved in the day-to-day sugarcane operations. “It’s not like it used to be, and most of the farmers left are larger farmers.” For this reason alone, Blanchard knows just how critical it is to expose today’s generation to an industry that has been part of the fabric of Iberia Parish and Acadiana. “Today the children have not had the opportunity to be exposed to farm life, and I wish all could experience this.”
With that, Blanchard has a dream, one she wants all of Acadiana to share, visualize and ultimately enjoy. Blanchard has now set her sights on a long-term goal: she wants to establish an agriculture center, one similar to historic attractions, like Vermilionville in Lafayette, only this would tell the stories of Acadiana farmers. “It would be a closed-in building with all the antiques and equipment inside that would tell our vital story. We want a village atmosphere where the festival can be a part of it and use our facility and have the fair there, too.” Above all, Blanchard says it’s about preservation and appreciation for a people and an industry that is so very much a part of south Louisiana’s culture. “My husband says: ‘You don’t know where you are going, if you don’t know where you came from.’”