Posted from Camarillo, California, United States.
Well we have been home from our trip for about two weeks now and I find myself really missing New Orleans and its people. Although this trip was exhausting it was also incredibly rewarding. One takeaway from this trip is the increased experience in conducting real-world data collection in the field. Constantly cutting our way through thorny blackberry bushes at the Woodland Conservancy was tough but we were rewarded when we collected some useful data for Dr. Anderson, not to mention the occasional adorable armadillo sighting. It was fun and interesting to look at the ratio of native vs. invasive plants in this protected area. We quickly got the hang of plant identification which really got me in the habit of looking at every plant around me, everywhere I went. I remember when we were getting an orientation at one of the community gardens we volunteered for and as I looked around I noticed the two trees right above us were a water oak and a mulberry. I felt pretty proud of myself for recognizing plants outside the field work. Doing the work at Woodlands Conservancy really made me think about the major I have chosen and how happy I am to be pursuing a career where I can do this type of work for a living. I am very happy I chose environmental science for my major and I can’t wait to utilize my skills after graduation.
The community garden work was also very rewarding. I feel confident knowing all the hard work we put into these gardens are for a good cause. So many people in New Orleans do not have access to healthy food, or they can’t afford it. The gardens we worked on were created specifically for people with limited access to healthy food. Two of the gardens we worked on were already established so we just helped by pulling weeds, laying down mulch, and picking ripe food. However, we also spent an entire day creating an entire garden starting with just an empty plot. We spent hours tilling the land and picking out the grass from the turned soil just to prepare the plots for planting. Finally, after all that we planted over a dozen different veggies. It was a lot of hard work for all of us but in the end we built an entire garden for a man with a physical disability who never would have been able to do himself. Not only does he benefit from this food but so do his neighbors, all of which live in tiny mobile homes and do not have great access to food like this. All of our work gardening has really inspired me to look into gardening at my own house and study what plants grow best in what areas.
While the field and garden work were truly inspiring, experiencing the cultural side of New Orleans was just as impactful. Every time someone talks about New Orleans they talk about the food, music, celebrations, voodoo, etc. Before going, I knew all of those things were part of the culture, but I never would have truly understood them had I not spent time in New Orleans. Never have I been to a place with such a prevalent and rich culture. I don’t often visit places with such a long and remembered history. Our cultural experiences involved: shopping in a farmers market, then cooking Creole dishes with that food, listening to several local musicians, exploring French Quarter, and visiting a historical museum. It was so interesting learning about the history of the land and getting to talk to people who experienced one of the worst disasters of our time, hurricane Katrina. As we explored the city we saw more and more devastation caused by the hurricane from almost 10 years ago. It was insane how prevalent the storm still was to the land and the people. I am so grateful for the opportunity to go to New Orleans and help out the local community and study it from an environmental perspective. I really hope to visit again in the future and I wish much luck to the students who attend this trip in the future.