Chef gives back Louisiana farming community

Celebrity chef John Besh is helping local farmers and entrepreneurs in Lousiana through his charity. Besh and his foundation give small loans for farmers in the post-Hurricane Katrina era.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff/File
Construction on an urban farm proceeds in the Make It Right village in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, LA, April 22, 2009. Celebrity chef John Besh is helping local farmers and entrepreneurs by giving small loans in the post-Hurricane Katrina era.

John Besh may be a culinary star, but his efforts beyond the kitchen could be even more impressive than his cuisine.

Chef Besh, a James Beard Foundation Award winner and Lousiana’s 2008 Restauranteur of the Year, owns and operates nine restaurants in the greater New Orleans area. His upbringing in southern Louisiana helped shape his signature refined-creole, culinary style. Now, his strong ties to the Louisiana community are helping to influence how his organization can assist local farmers and entrepreneurs.

Founded in 2011, the John Besh Foundation provides scholarships, grants and loans to promising individuals and organizations in the New Orleans community. The Foundation’s mission is to “promote the preservation of the culinary history and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana through the cultivation of new talent and the support of local endeavors.” In a post-Hurricane Katrina era, these goals are especially important to maintain regional resiliency in the mist of rebuilding. 

The Foundation’s most recent initiative selects local farmers to provide with financial loans, while also delivering valuable training in marketing and business strategy. Many regional farmers have delicious products, the Foundation shares, but lack the finances or business knowledge to market those products to a wider audience. Working with Hope Credit Union, the Foundation evaluates loan applications and designs customized repayment plans. Then, MBA candidates from Tulane University’s Net Impact business advisory program, support loan recipients in setting goals and creating a long-term business plan.

Loans ranging from US$1,000 to US$20,000 are available to farmers within a 200-mile radius of New Orleans. Acknowledging the challenges farmers face in acquiring loans from traditional sources, Besh has yet to set a limit on the number of recipients. "The more we lend the better it is for these guys and gals out working to produce all the wonderful products that make my life wonderful," Besh said. "We hope to do as many as possible."

Mauthes' Progress Dairy Farm was the first recipient of a John Besh Foundation loan, receiving the maximum amount of US$20,000 in 2011. Forced to sell most of their diary cows to cover damages from Hurricane Katrina, the Mauthes family lacked the resources to rebuild their once blooming business. With the help of the John Besh Foundation, the Mauthes are now selling their dairy products in farmers markets, select retail stores and to restaurants in the New Orleans area - including Besh’s own.

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