Kurt and Karen Unkel
Kurt Unkel grew up in family of rice and cattle farmers in Kinder, eating the traditional Cajun pork-and-rice boudin that’s prolific in this area of the state. For the first decade-plus of their marriage, Kurt and his wife, Karen, a nurse by profession, farmed on auto-pilot. But about eight years ago, with all three of their kids in school, they found time to assess their work lives, which induced an awakening. Seeing no way to make a viable long-term living in conventional farming, they began to transition to more sustainable farming methods, and also to direct-marketing their product. While Kurt still applies small amounts of chemical fertilizers to his fields, he hasn’t used any pesticides in years. Goats control the weeds, and his pigs feast on the brown jasmine rice that the Unkels now sell at a farmers’ market in Baton Rouge, and to a health-food store in Lake Charles. Their biggest leap was developing a recipe for a healthier style of boudin made with their brown rice, meat from their range-fed animals, and black beans. Their goal is to expand in this niche market, so that Kurt can quit the side jobs that have kept the family’s finances afloat during this long but rewarding period of transition. Just recently, representatives from Whole Foods Market helped bring the Unkels closer to attaining that goal by agreeing to sell their boudin in the Baton Rouge store.
The Unkels sold their rice mill and closed the farm in May 2016.