Farmer Spotlight: Madison Latiolais

Each season at Gaining Ground brings new reasons to celebrate—including field crew members who seek the opportunity to support our hunger relief mission while strengthening their own agricultural skills! New to the team this year is Madison Latiolais, whose passion for farming traces back to her Cajun roots. We are thrilled to have Madison with us in 2024, and to share a little bit about her with our newsletter readers! 

Where is home? How did you find your way to Gaining Ground?

Home is Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. After graduating from LSU with a degree in Political Science concentrating in international politics and law, I spent over a year at LSU Law with the plan of practicing environmental law. I realized that I wanted to engage in the environmental movement in a more hands-on, community driven manner. 

I moved to Boston in August 2022 and began working in the environmental non-profit sector as a community organizer which led me to follow my passions more deeply. From there, I listened to my heart and mind to find a job which fit my love for plants, environmental restoration, and community engagement. I feel very fortunate to spend my days working at Gaining Ground. 

Have you always had a knack for farming and growing things? Where did your interest in farming come from?

My interest in farming began initially through my Cajun culture. Many Cajun families have gardens or know of other community members who grow more uncommon vegetables that are in Cajun dishes. My grandfather and his brothers were all neighbors and shared vegetables and growing secrets with one another throughout the years. Some of my earliest memories in the garden are during potato season when I would be sent into the field with a little bucket and rubber boots to collect all of the potatoes. We also kept swaths of flower beds, my mother’s favorite being her daylily beds. 

I truly fostered my love for growing plants during high school where I focused more of my energy on understanding the interactions between native plants and environmental/coastal restoration. With Louisiana being a primary area of concern for climate change, my brain has shifted to a sense of urgency to better understand the ways we can foster our existing environment to rebuild what we have lost. Gaining Ground is giving me a place to learn the knowledge I need in order to help communities like my own. 

We talk a lot about the importance of a farming practice that is sustainable and regenerative. What do these terms mean to you—both in relation to your work/career as a farmer and as someone with a personal relationship with our larger food system and the climate?

The words regenerative and sustainable mean a few things to me. First, regenerative means that we have to act in tandem with the land we use. As we take from the land we should be giving more back. As we feed the land and treat it with consideration, we can create a more healthy and sustainable climate for everyone. By protecting our soil, we are protecting the food we grow for all those who will consume it. Sustainability and regeneration place emphasis on restoring and preserving. By using sustainable growing practices, we are able to ensure this land can continue to grow food for generations to come. 

Do you have a favorite farm project/task/duty or tool to use? What do you like about it?

My favorite farm task is planting! I always enjoy walking around the farm and looking at everything we have planted. It is so exciting to reflect on the growth!

Do you have any favorite farmers or other folks doing work that motivates/inspires you?

I have favorite organizations that are doing work that motivates and inspires me. First is the Acadiana Native Plant Project. They are an organization in South Louisiana that is helping restore native prairie habitats in the state by growing and selling native plants. They also have programs for prairie restoration and volunteer work. This motivates and inspires me because it is a great resource for individuals seeking to grow plants that are true to the native soil. 

Another organization that I frequently discuss is Glass Half Full. They are a glass recycling organization in New Orleans (and expanding to Birmingham) that began in the backyard of a college house. The organization collects donated glass and breaks the containers down into various grits of glass sand. From there, the sand can be used for sandbags (primarily for disaster relief), decorative projects, and most importantly, for coastal restoration! The organization recently received a National Science Foundation grant that is allowing them to test using recycled glass sand for coastal restoration. This is an inspiring organization to me because they saw a clear issue: New Orleans had no glass recycling facilities. Two college students took it upon themselves to change that for the betterment of the environment. Now, they have expanded pickups and projects. I look forward to seeing what these organizations do next. 

When you’re not farming, what do you do for fun?

When I am not farming I am typically spending time with my Labrador retriever or crafting. I am working on new crafts like creating salves and balms from what I can find around the farm. I also make jewelry from second hand materials which I post on my Instagram, @madimoomakes!