Holly Galbreath 9 posts

Final Reflection

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.


More garden work!

Today we volunteered at Grow Dat which is a farm dedicated to growing organic food and helping the youth of the area by giving them jobs. Some of their food is sold to restaurants around town which is really cool. My job today was to pull weeds out of growing gardens as well as laying down and securing a black tarp over a new garden. The tarp is used to control weeds and protect from the environment. It really felt great to work hard on helping these gardens and I know my efforts really help the farm move forward with its goals.  


Worked at Capstone today 

Today we did some volunteer work for an organization called Capstone which was created in response to hurricane Katrina and was designed to help less fortunate folks get food. It started as a community garden and has since grown to include an aquaculture system for catfish, bee colonies, chickens, and goats. While some of my classmates worked on a filtration system for the catfish pond, the rest of us worked to clear an empty plot of land that once had a house on it. We mowed the the lot and threw away all of the litter we found, which was a lot. We also used the cut up grass and plants as feed for the goats and bedding for the chicken coop. It was a great pleasure working for this organization and I felt like my work there has legitamelty increased the progress of this organization.  


More work at the Woodland site

Today we continued to work on collecting data at the Woodland Trail and Park site. We completed path A at 1200m and moved on to path B. We had some folks who help fund the project visit the site. We discussed two reasons why keeping this site preserved is important. One reason is that it acts as a resting site for migrating birds. They have few places to rest already and the decimation of this area could severely affect migrating bird populations. Another reason why this site is important is that it has a much higher chance of persisting through time compared to other sites that are likely to be affected by sea level rise or development. 

While working the transects we encountered a lot of blackberry just as we did yesterday. The three main invasive species we looked for included: tallow, chinaberry, and privet. All of these plants are from China and have had major impacts on the landscape. Efforts have been made to fight these plants. One way is to girdle the invasive tree and spray it with herbacides. We saw this today on some tallow trees within the site. Some of the trees haven’t bloomed yet which makes identification difficult. Our next step is to finish surveying path B and move on to the next site.  


We started transact work today

So we started working on transects today, identifying plants and looking at different aspects of the vegetation. Blackberry, which is very invasive, was very abundant and made the data collection very difficult. It was covered in tiny thorns that constantly got caught on my clothes and hair so we had to use a machete to clear them. Nevertheless I got a sense of what vegetation resides in the landscape and a lot of it was invasive plants.  


Today was all about food! 

Today we went to the New Orleans Cooking school to learn about classic New Orleans food. It was super unique in that we went to farmers market to buy the ingredients for ourselves. The teams were: appetizer, salad, soup, entree, and dessert. I was head of the dessert team and we made calas. These are known as the predecessors of beignets. They are sweet rice patties deep fried with powdered sugar. We added strawberries from the farmers market to the rice patties and made a sweet strawberry sauce to the plate as well. Traditionally, these were made by slaves who used left over rice to make them. They sold them in front of parishes in an attempt to buy their freedom, but it hardly ever worked. All in all the food each team made was delicious and learning the history of each dish really made me appreciate the food and culture even more. I also got to try a piping hot fresh beignet which was something I really wanted to do while I was here.  But I have to say the most interesting food I ate today was an avocado sorbet Popsicle from the farmers market. 


1st day

We are nearing the end of the first day and I can confidently say I have never stayed up this long my entire life. Over 36 hours with no sleep is a little crazy. But today was so amazing, I can’t believe it’s only been one day. I already feel like I’ve been here for a week. Between seeing wild gators, exploring the French quarter, and eating amazing food, today has really made me excited for the days to come! Good times from NOLA.