Thus far this year, some 482 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables have been grown and donated to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank (GBRFB) from friends of the Ascension Parish Memorial Donation Orchard and Garden, which was inaugurated on Memorial Day 2009 by Parish President Tommy Martinez and Benny Johnson in honor of local deceased military veterans and parish employees who died in performance of their duties.

Thus far this year, some 482 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables have been grown and donated to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank (GBRFB) from friends of the Ascension Parish Memorial Donation Orchard and Garden, which was inaugurated on Memorial Day 2009 by Parish President Tommy Martinez and Benny Johnson in honor of local deceased military veterans and parish employees who died in performance of their duties.

Since its inception, friends of the Ascension Parish Memorial Donation Orchard and Garden have grown and donated more than 3,700 pounds of fresh produce to the GBRFB in memory of the deceased parish residents the donation memorial was established to honor.

During the inaugural event, Martinez, Johnson and Mike Bourgeois planted two donated pear trees at Duplessis Park Bourgeois grafted from a nearly 100 year old tree Bourgeois' great-grandfather, Anthony Ventrella, rooted from a cutting on the family farm in Pointe Coupee Parish.  

As a friend of the Ascension Parish Memorial Donation Orchard and Garden, Bourgeois donated 186 pounds of pears from the aged Pointe Coupee Parish tree on behalf of Ventrella Farms as part of this year's total harvest from the Ascension Parish Memorial Donation orchard/garden.

Since nobody in their family knew the variety or name of the Point Coupee Parish tree, Bourgeois gave it the name Patricke Peartree Food Bank pear and sent cuttings from it to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Germplasm Repository (Gene Bank) in Corvallis, Oregon, one of some 30 units of the USDA around the country that conserve various vegetable plants, fruit and nut trees, etc.  For instance, cotton is the main plant conserved at College Station, Texas, and tomatoes at the USDA unit in Davis, CA.

Regarding the gene bank at Corvallis, Curator Joseph Postman says, "The main purpose of our fruit gene bank is to collect the world diversity for certain crops in one place -- including different varieties and wild relative species.  This provides a reservoir of heirloom and historic varieties no longer available, and also provides a great wealth of genetic traits that can be used for breeding new varieties. Growers and nurseries also find value in finding foreign or historic varieties that may meet their specific need for niche markets."

Earlier this year, Postman informed Bourgeois that the genetic profile on the old Pointe Coupee tree had been completed and that it indicated the tree was a Leona pear, which, according to legend, originated in Converse, La. in 1930 when a tree arrived in the mail at the post office there, which, after remaining unclaimed, was subsequently planted by the postmaster who named it after his wife.

However, after further review and reflection, it was discovered that the Pointe Coupee tree actually predates the Converse tree by several years. Those in Corvallis refer to the Pointe Coupee tree as simply the Patricke pear tree.  So, it is appropriate now to call the tree either the Patricke or the Leona or the Patricke/Leona.  In any case, Bourgeois is most gratified that genetic material from his great-grandfather's old pear tree is now available for possible use in breeding new varieties.

Ascension is one of 12 parishes in the GBRFB service area.  The six member agencies in the parish are Ascension Parish Government, Fellowship Center, St. Luke AME Church, St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Church, the Salvation Army (Gonzales) and Manantial de Vila. These agencies receive a combined total of tens of thousands of pounds of food from the GBRFB annually to distribute to those in need in the parish.

If you have similar food to donate in memory of the deceased the Ascension Parish Memorial Donation Orchard and Garden was established to honor, simply call the GBRFB at (225) 359-9940.  They will send volunteers to harvest your donation for you and transport it to the GBRFB, all free of charge. The GBRFB also provides federal income tax deduction receipts for your in-kind donation upon request.