Grower Profile: The Eddie Lewis Family of Youngsville
A lot has changed in southeastern Lafayette Parish since
Eddie "Boss Man” Lewis Sr., 72, was a young man.
Pinhook Road east of the Vermilion River was a two-lane
highway all the way to Broussard. Sugarcane occupied the real estate
populated by oil field support companies north of Pinhook to Hwy 90, which was
not yet the "future corridor of Interstate 49.” Ambassador Caffery Parkway was
still a dream and the only reason for Lafayette city folks to motor out to
Verot School Road was to dance the night away at the legendary Hamilton’s club,
a jumpin’ zydeco music dance hall.
It seems like the only thing that hasn’t changed in the Lozes
community on Austin Rd. (Hwy. 89) is that the Lewis family is still farming
sugarcane and sweet potatoes off Linden Lewis Road. Throw in a couple of hogs,
some cattle, chickens and a backyard vegetable garden and the Lewis farm is not
that far removed from the way "daddy and them” used to farm.
There are a couple of well-maintained rubber-tire wooden yam
wagons that look like they might have been pulled by a mule not that long ago
and a 1960 Allis-Chalmers diesel tractor Boss Man still uses in the sweet
potato and corn field.
"Be sure to tell everybody I’m still selling sweet
potatoes,” Eddie Lewis Sr. said. In accordance with Boss Man’s request, if you
want to get some fresh sweet potatoes (probably from the last farmer growing
yams in Lafayette Parish) call Eddie Lewis Sr. at 337-319-3375. His sweet
potatoes are so fresh you’ll want to slap them.
The biggest change, however, on Linden Lewis Road is that a
whole new generation of Lewis men are driving the tractors.
Boss Man’s grandchildren, 30-year-old Eddie J. Lewis III,
Jordan Lewis, 25, and 15-year-old Hunter Lewis, have all claimed their
positions in the Lewis operation.
Eddie III never planned on being a farmer because his
father, Eddie Jr. and Boss Man, had the situation under control.
The two older men were making a living farming, so Eddie III
went to college and found a good job at a local bank. Brother Jordan, a rookie
farmer, was just out of college. Hunter was doing a man’s work on the farm but
still a teenaged student at Comeaux High School.
But plans are plans and reality doesn’t always cooperate
with plans. Eddie Jr. (Eddie III, Jordan and Hunter’s father) died unexpectedly
at age 49 in the cab of his tractor doing what he loved best: farming in the
With the 2011 sugarcane crop in the field ready for harvest, Eddie Jr.’s death
was a shock and hardship that Boss Man and his grandsons had to overcome.
A source of strength for Jordan and Eddie III came from an
unexpected place: kid brother Hunter.
"After my father passed, I took it hard,” Eddie III said.
"But Hunter said ‘Let’s go to work.’ Hunter kept me and Jordan going.
"I was a stockbroker. Hunter was the one that was out here
at four o’clock in the morning. Hunter knows the business.
He pretty much showed me and Jordan what to do.”
"I think the most surprising thing about Hunter was, the day
after my dad passed, he got on the same tractor my dad died in and got us
moving,” Jordan said.
Eddie III said his grandfather also is an immovable force on
the farm. He and Jordan speak in quiet reverential tones when they talk about
"That old man doesn’t play with us,” Eddie III said. "He
makes sure we get it.”
Eddie Sr. is passing on his love of the sweet potato crop to
"This past year he showed me how to plant sweet potatoes and
learn the varieties,” Jordan said. "This year we planted the Evangeline
variety. They’re pretty good. They’re pretty sweet and people enjoy them.”
While Boss Man is making sure the upcoming generation is
grounded in the basics of farming, Eddie III
is doing his part to protect Louisiana’s sugarcane
industry. He made his first lobbying trip to Washington D.C. in February
with other sugarcane growers on a trip organized by the American Sugar Cane
League. Eddie III lobbied Congress to maintain a strong national sugar policy
favorable to Louisiana sugar and other American sugar producers.
"There are a lot of forces, that if they had their way,
would put us out of business,” Eddie III said. "Big candy companies are making
record profits. I’m also for making profits so I have to represent what is good
for my farming interests so me and my brothers and my grandfather can make
money too. A fair sugar policy gives American producers a fair chance to
compete in the market. ”
Eddie Sr. recognizes his heritage as a sugarcane farmer and
plans on farming until, well, until he can’t.
"Linden Lewis was my great-grandfather,” he said. "We’ve
been here six generations.”
Neighborhood subdivisions have been putting pressure on the
Youngsville area for more than 30 years. The land pressure was one of the
reasons Eddie III decided to throw in with his grandfather and brothers.
"We know we (farmers) are kind of an endangered species,”
Eddie III said with a laugh. "That’s why I left the stockbroker business but it
was an easy decision. This was where I wanted and needed to be.”
And the Lewis brothers will carry on the farming tradition
like their father did and Boss Man did and great-great-great-great-grandfather
Linden Lewis did. That’s why they call it family farming.
By Sam Irwin