National ASHS in New Orleans

My name is Olivia Caillouet and I am majoring in Horticulture with a minor in sustainability at the University of Arkansas. This summer I attended the National American Society for Horticultural Sciences (ASHS) conference in New Orleans. At this conference my undergraduate honors research was presented on sustainable blackberry production in a greenhouse environment. The objective of this experiment was to use shade to reduce heat stress and potentially improve fruit quality for growers in the south.

This trip was beneficial to my research, professional development, and academic career in many ways. Through the presentation of my greenhouse experiment a deeper understanding of its importance on a national and local scale was understood.

This also provided me with the opportunity to communicate to a diverse audience the objectives, methods and results of the greenhouse research. I took part in the undergraduate poster competition and won 3rd place among other students from across the nation. Feedback was given on my statical analysis that will be taken into consideration while writing the thesis this upcoming fall semester.

Presenting my poster at the National ASHS conference.

Presenting my poster at the National ASHS conference.

In addition, this contributed to my professional development by providing networking opportunities with influential horticulturists from around the world. One in particular, Dr. Krishnan is currently the head horticulturist at the Denver Botanical Gardens while also managing a coffee farm in Jamaica. I was able to learn more about her impact at the Botanical Gardens and coffee production in the tropics. Another contact made was Dr. Jha who gave a lecture during the international horticulture oral presentations about the non-profit organization he founded that improves small-scale farming with improved access to technology.

These connections taught me about career opportunities in the field of horticulture. Conversing with professionals and graduate students gave me a well-rounded understanding of opportunities and expectations at the master and doctoral levels. I aspire to one day obtain an upper level degree, which this conference helped prepared me for.

To complement the lectures I took part in a local-food system tour that exposed me to non-profit organizations that strive to improve access to healthy nutritious food in the New Orleans. ReFresh, a non-profit brought back an abandoned building after the devastating hurricane Katrina. It is inspiring to see how the city used this as an opportunity to bring about social change to improve quality of life, food access and health among its residents.

The abandoned building has now been renovated through the support of Whole Foods, Liberty’s Kitchen, Tulane University and a community garden. Whole Foods is dedicated to providing quality food at an affordable price while also supporting local growers, fishers and the culinary arts. Tulane University developed a curriculum with the help of culinary and medical professors aimed to educate those obtaining a medical degree. A full scale kitchen is now accessible to students and the idea is being adopted by Universities across the nation. Liberty Kitchen hires at risk youth while supporting wholesome food and empowering the local community. Food cooked at Liberty Kitchen is packaged and sold at Whole Foods on a daily basis. The garden behind ReFresh is used to teach the surrounding community, Liberty Kitchen workers and the students from Tulane about sustainable farming practices. Whole Foods also recently sponsored a summer camp for children in the surrounding area to learn gardening skills and transfer the produce to the Tulane Kitchen to then create farm fresh meals. This is just one example of the symbiotic partnerships in bloom in and around New Orleans.

Local food system tour in New Orleans.

Local food system tour in New Orleans.

The local food system tour was not the only hands-on experience gained at the ASHS conference. Thursday I took part in an invasive aquatic plant tour. We arrived in the early morning and set out on a bayou boat through  the Barataria Swamp. Millions of dollars are spent annually trying to control these invasive plants. Professors from Florida discussed the obstacles faced with nonnative aquatic plants. This expanded my plant identification skills and allowed networking with students and faculty from all over the country. Below you will see the upper left photo of duck weed (Lemnoideae) that spreads so aggressively kayaking is no longer permitted in the preserve. Understanding the plant physiology and preventive measures could save thousands of dollars while improving the local ecology.

Invasive aquatic plant swamp tour.

Invasive aquatic plant swamp tour.

For those who might consider attending the conference I would recommend taking the opportunity to present research if at all possible. This will develop speaking, writing and explanatory skills useful in many areas of life. Plan to attend oral presentations that spark your interest, but also balance that with some hands-on tours that will give you practical application of concepts learned in the classroom environment. Lastly, step out-side of your comfort zone and take advantage of the networking opportunities all around. Whether that is after presentations, during receptions or even in the elevator there is no telling where it will take you later in life.

What is next for me? I am now preparing for the fall 2015 semester and gathering material needed for completing my honors thesis on sustainable blackberry production. It is my intention to then pursue a master’s degree and use my knowledge to improve the lives of people of all ages through quality food and green-space.

This research was made possible by a grant funded by Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE; LS12-250) and an additional SSARE Young Scholar Enhancement apprenticeship grant.  Additional grant funding was provided by the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and Honors College of the University of Arkansas undergraduate research grant programs.  This project was part of an undergraduate Honors Thesis. Travel was partially supported by the University of Arkansas Department of Horticulture Mitchener Undergraduate Scholarship Award.