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LA program addresses ag needs

Hurricane recovery in Louisiana is about more than just home rebuilds.

BY HEATHER MOYER | NEW ORLEANS, La. | January 30, 2007

"They appreciate knowing that this is something making a lasting change in the recovery."

—Amanda Hardesty

The hurricane recovery in Louisiana is about more than just home rebuilds, and Amanda Hardesty is helping volunteers fill that unique role.

From rebuilding crab shedding tanks, to helping fisherman recover valuable nets, Hardesty's Katrina Agricultural and coastal Resources Experience (We KARE) program is providing a helping hand to the agricultural recovery of Louisiana.

"We give volunteers an option outside of gutting or rebuilding a house that can help them relate to the overall effect of Katrina and help individuals in a way that (the volunteers) may not get to otherwise," Hardesty explained.

That same type of volunteer experience is what got Hardesty into Hurricane Katrina recovery work herself. A 2006 graduate of Ohio State University, she first went down to Louisiana to help in the fall of 2005 with a group of students. She enjoyed the experience so much that she organized another trip over her Spring Break. From there, she was hooked even more.

"I enjoyed it all enough that when I graduated in June I decided that I wanted to do this for a while," Hardesty said. "I felt like this was something that needed to be done. I felt a connection to it, so I picked it up and ran with it."

So she came back down to the New Orleans area and worked with contacts at Louisiana State University (LSU), the Louisiana Sea Grant Program and Loyola University. Between those connections, she said, a grant and a program came together to coordinate volunteers for the post-Katrina agricultural needs of Louisiana.

In the past seven months, We KARE volunteers have put in more than 10,000 hours of work. Example projects include cleaning up shrimp processing facilities, rebuilding greenhouses, harvesting citrus, cleaning and rebuilding plant nurseries, building tanks for crab shedders and cleaning up and replanting much of New Orleans' City Park. One greenhouse volunteers helped rebuild belonged to a group that helps at-risk 16 to 20-year-olds. Hardesty said We KARE volunteers rebuilt the agency's greenhouse so that the youths could get back to work with their landscaping business.

The feedback from volunteers is very positive, she added. "Most of them really enjoy it because we don't cut out the residential impact. We try to take our groups on disaster tours so they know what's going on. They enjoy all of the projects we do because they get to work with families that have been directly impacted. They're also seeing a very direct impact immediately, too. They get a different perspective on the recovery and often ask about what they can do to spread more information about these types of recovery projects."

Some of the recovery projects have also benefited greatly from having skilled volunteer groups come down. Several college volunteer groups held valuable agricultural skills, including a Michigan State University group that helped restore the Pelican Greenhouse in the New Orleans City Park Botanical Garden. Those students brought their own tools and horticulture knowledge to rebuild an irrigation system and replant valuable plants.

To Hardesty's co-worker and supporter from LSU, Mark Schexnayder, the help given by the volunteers contributes to a network of recovery. Picking projects that help family businesses get back on their feet helps more than just that family. "One group came in and fixed up a seafood plant in St. Bernard Parish," said Schexnayder, hurricane recovery coordinator for LSU's Agricultural center.

"They had a 23 foot wall of water go through there, the place was about wiped out. The woman who owned it had nothing. The group came in, cleaned it out with the help of the family who owned it - and now she's reopened again with 50 fishermen working out of her dock. So you recover one person, but it's a project that has connections to bring other people back to work as well. It's helping people help others and themselves."

Helping crab shedders recovery has been another valuable and connected project. When crabs back out of their shells, explained Hardesty, they become very soft and are a culinary delicacy. "They're very lucrative and many of these farmers can figure out when the crabs are about to back out. But that requires special tanks the size of a dinner table and with an extensive water piping and pumping system that can cost $1,500 to $2,000 per system."

Volunteers from We KARE have helped rebuild these tanks, and Schexnayder said that doesn't only benefit the crabbers. "It helps the local restaurants who are looking for product to sell."

Hardesty added that the volunteers love seeing that connected recovery as well. "Some have helped provide such important infrastructure. They may feel like they're in the middle of nowhere rebuilding crab shedding tanks, but they can see the economic impact to one person and the circle around it, and how that can be built upon in the future. They appreciate knowing that this is something making a lasting change in the recovery."

Schexnayder said finding projects isn't hard, as utilizing his LSU Cooperative Extension Service contacts brings in those in need. He added that frequently when volunteers enter community for one project, the other families in need step forward.

Hardesty and Schexnayder are grateful for the volunteers who have come in from all over the country, and they remain excited to keep We KARE moving forward with the Hurricane Katrina recovery.

"If all the volunteers for all the responding groups down here hadn't come, you just don't know what it would be like. It's amazing, and I can't really express it in words," said Schexnayder. "We want to keep that momentum up and direct people toward the projects that need to be done."

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More links on Hurricanes


Related Links:

We KARE Web site

Louisiana Sea Grant

Louisiana State University Agricultural Center

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