Ellis Douglas is a person who wears many hats. Throughout his working life, he has spent a significant amount of time in the service industry, working alongside chef Melissa Martin of Mosquito Supper Club, and cooking in the kitchen of popular New Orleans restaurant 1000 Figs. Over time, his focus and passion for his work transitioned from preparing food, to selling and growing it himself. Now, as the only full-time farmer of Major Acre Farm, based in Laplace, Louisiana, Ellis is a grower, plumber, electrician, carpenter, business and sales person.
Ellis is a seventh-generation Mississippian who moved to New Orleans in 2003. He lives in Laplace with his wife Jasmine, right next to where he grows all of his produce. Major Acre Farm has its name because “[They] are doing big things in a small space”, actively growing on about 1.8 acres of land. Right now, he is harvesting carrots, hakurei turnips, Bok choi, grapefruits, loose lobo radishes, a baby brassica mix and adolescent mustard greens. Ellis is known for his “Awesome Lettuce Mix”, which he sells both at market and to restaurants.
The relationship between Ellis and local restaurant 1000 Figs is a great example of a successful farm-to-table interaction. In his interview, Ellis remarked on the high level of support that he receives from the owners of this restaurant in Bayou St. John (who now also have smaller extensions of the restaurant in several other locations). They understand the flexibility needed by local, small-scale growers. “I have been able to learn about the produce standards [of 1000 Figs] as well, which is important in grower-restaurant relationships,” said Ellis. He worked for the restaurant before becoming a farmer, and is now able to sell them his produce in place of preparing it in the kitchen.
Ellis attends the ReFresh Farmer’s Market on Mondays at the Whole Foods on Broad Street, as well as the Crescent City Farmer’s Market on Thursdays at the American Can Company building in Mid-City. Both individual buyers and local chefs attend the local farmers’ markets, shopping for themselves and for their restaurants (respectively). Ellis remarked on the difference between these two types of buyers, and the advantages of each kind. While chefs purchase produce in larger quantities and help to scale your production, individual buyers tend to be more reliable, attending the markets every week and making small, consistent purchases. He also sells his produce in the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) boxes offered by the VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative and Laughing Buddha Nursery.
In 2016, Ellis was an apprentice at Mountainview Farms in northern Virginia, a certified organic farm that sells its produce in Washington, D.C. He lived and worked there for six months, gaining a vast array of knowledge on growing techniques and other technical skills necessary for production farming. Since starting Major Acre Farm in 2017, he has seen an increase in the collaboration and resource-sharing between newer, younger farmers in New Orleans, as well as a general increase in the quantity of vendors at farmer’s markets and the population of locals attending the markets. Despite these improvements, more growers are always needed, as well as consumer education on the importance of local produce and supporting local farmers. There are many ways to change and expand the local agricultural scene here in Louisiana.
Visit Ellis and check out his produce at the Monday and Thursday markets, or follow him at @majoracrefarm on Instagram.