With its sprawling display of flowers, heirloom veggie plants and offbeat herbs, Greenhand Nursery is often the first thing people see when they visit the Red Stick Farmers Market.
Founders Mila and Andeab Berhane sell their carefully raised herbs and vegetables at both the Thursday and Saturday markets to loyal patrons who like buying local plants as much as they like buying local produce.
“The highlight is always talking to the customers,” says Mila, a sustainable agriculture instructor at Southern University’s Department of Agricultural Sciences. “It’s a two-way learning experience. We find out all the different ways people are using our plants in their home cooking, and we share how we use them.”
Conversations about global cooking come easy for the Berhanes. Mila is a native of El Salvador, and Andeab is from Eritrea. They both love to cook. Before they pack up and leave the market, they often pick up ingredients for that night’s dinner from fellow vendors, Mila says.
The couple was part of a core group of growers and agricultural experts who helped plan and launch the farmers market in the mid-’90s. The Berhanes’ booth started with selling tropical plants—something they were wholesaling to local nurseries at the time—but soon added herbs and vegetables. Over the years, they’ve expanded their variety significantly to accommodate advancements in home cooking.
Customers in search of exotic herbs and peppers, heirloom tomatoes and vegetable plants appropriate for Baton Rouge’s humid subtropical climate flock to the Berhanes’ booth for both growing guidance and culinary inspiration.
“In the spring, we’ll have up to 20 different kinds of tomatoes, and in the fall, about 10 different kinds of lettuce. We usually have six or seven different varieties of mint, three or four different basils, and on and on,” Mila says. “People also come to us for hard-to-find pepper plants, too, like Bird’s Eye chilis.”
On Saturdays, the Berhanes set up on the south end of the market at Fifth and Main streets, their tidy protrusion of plants welcoming shoppers. At the Thursday market, their booth is near market organizer BREADA’s info table. In between markets, the couple works on different aspects of their business throughout the year.
About 10 years ago, Andeab quit his job as an etymologist at a pest control company to focus on the nursery full time. The farmers market is their sole retail outlet.
“It’s a year-round operation,” Mila says. “We do all of our own propagation. The first week in January, we start growing seedlings for spring plants, and in July, we begin our fall seedlings.”
Everything the Berhanes sell is appropriate for south Louisiana’s climate. They test plants in their home garden before selling them, Mila says.
“We’re very careful about the plants we introduce,” she says. “We make sure that they are going to perform, and that they won’t become invasive.”
This fall, look for several different varieties of greens, as well as carrots, turnips, beets, Swiss chard, kale, arugula and multiple lettuces. Fall herbs, including cilantro, dill, parsley, fennel and others will also be in good supply.
Greenhand also sells flowers for pollinator gardens, including milkweed and other plants. Find Greenhand Nursery on Facebook
This story originally appeared in the November 2020 Issue of 225.