By Philip Russo, Plaquemines Parish Outreach Coordinator, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
During the first weekend in December, local residents and tourists alike celebrated the bounty of Plaquemines Parish’s cultural and economic successes at the 66th annual Plaquemines Parish Fair and Orange Festival in Buras. Huddled between the protective Mississippi River levee and the elegantly decayed Fort Jackson, the festival was not entirely spared the blustery and frosty weather that is typical of early December. Yet despite the weather, fairgoers celebrated “the best Citrus in the Country” and reveled in the Mississippi River Delta’s natural beauty.
The fusion of Creole and Croatian cuisine served throughout the festival grounds presented a tasty backdrop for the series of navel-themed contests, such as orange peeling and orange eating, that festival queens from all over Louisiana came to compete in. The festival was successful and well-attended, but local residents still lament that the fair has not returned to being held within the confines of Fort Jackson itself – a tradition interrupted by extensive flood damage resulting from Hurricane Katrina. However, if coastal erosion and sea level rise are not countered with aggressive coastal restoration efforts, Millennials may be the last generation to enjoy the festival on this site.
Storied harvest festivals are a common but precious feature of the fragile human landscape of coastal Louisiana. As we design and implement coastal restoration projects, we are protecting and preserving not only the delta and its vital wetlands, but also the area’s occupants, their way of life and the cultural legacies of the region which depend on the health of the Mississippi River Delta. So whether you’re a fan of hearing the Crawfish Race Commissioner yell “ils sont partis” at the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge or festival queens competing to see who can fit the most kumquats in their mouths at the Orange Festival in Buras, seeing Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan thoroughly implemented should be a top priority.