Sustainability in New Orleans: Pro Vita 2011

Berkshire students report on their experiences during the Pro Vita trip.


Today was our final day in the beautiful city of New Orleans, and we’ve had an exciting time  Since we had been doing busy community service work for the past four days, Mr. Clary and Ms. Loose-Brown gave us the opportunity to explore the famous French Quarter district to shop and enjoy. After a much needed sleep-in, we began by going to a cafe in the French Quarter for a fantastic brunch. We then worked our way back toward Jackson Square to have a tour of the Hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras exhibits in the Louisiana State Museum at the Presbyter, right next to St. Louis Cathedral.  The museum was very informative and interesting, and struck many of the students at the core when learning about the hardships that were faced by residents who didn’t evacuate and the extensive damage to the city:  before, during and after the storm.  Many of the students, including myself, felt that they knew about the hurricane but never understood how awful it really was, and this exhibit helped us to understand that much more. Above the Hurricane Katrina exhibit was the Mardi Gras exhibit, which showed the history of the holiday and the roots it has in New Orleans.


Once we finished with the museum, we had until 4 p.m. to enjoy ourselves, while we were encouraged to get fun wigs, masks, makeup, and costumes to wear for the Mardi Gras parades tonight—the night of the Muses. We dispersed into groups at first, separately enjoying the city and all its glory from different angles. Theo and Meg started by taking pictures of the unique architecture, and then went to the boardwalk on the Mississippi River in search of the French Market. We then enjoyed some muffalettas—a kind of Italian sandwiches—and other local specialties at the Napoleon House restaurant with some of our peers. Following Mr. Clary’s recommendation, many of us bought Mardi Gras attire for the parade later that night. Chloe, Jacq, Annie and I bought fun-colored and styled wigs, and Lacey, Kelley, and Chloe bought masquerade-style masks. Once we met up again in Jackson square, we piled into the van and drove toward the parade, parking as close as we could. Although we thought we looked outrageous, nobody else on the street was phased by our fun costumes at the parade.  Even Mr. Clary was in costume, with a green suit and green mask with horns (Go Bears!). Mr. Clary informed us on what to do during the parade, such as asking for beads, coins, and shoes—the Muses’ famous ‘throw’—from  the passing floats, but mostly to be safe and enjoy.  As the floats and marching bands came and went, our piles of beads, our pockets, even our book-bags got bigger with little trinkets and knick-knacks thrown to us by hosts of various floats. After a few hours, the parades were becoming less frequent and we were becoming more tired.  In fact, we were all wiped out.


The trip, we would all agree, was fantastic. Like Theo so eloquently phrased it, “This trip is enough for a good taste, but will still leave us very hungry!”  We all had a great time, and are dreading returning from the 70 degree weather here to the 20 degree weather back at school. Overall, the trip was informative and inspiring, and many of us would love to return to New Orleans as soon as we can. 


- Meg Gardella and Kim Henry

Greenlight New Orleans

As Olly and Max describe in the post below, Greenlight installs CFL light bulbs in community homes for free to save energy and money as well as educate people about energy conservation.  A real highlight of our trip.


Today in NOLA, we visited Green Light, a non-profit organization  that saves energy and educates by installing compact -florescent light bulbs in private residences. We were split into two groups, travelling around neighborhoods and installing light bulbs for people.  In doing this, we helped save people money and reduced their energy usage. We enjoyed doing this because we got to meet real New Orleans families, from different economic levels, but they all seemed willing to do good for the community.  One family seemed not really to care about how much money they saved so much as about how much energy they saved. The second house we went to, however, was more lower-class, with a grandfather suffering from dementia and his grandson, an out-of-work offshore oil worker, taking care of the whole family.  There was also in the house a Vietnam War veteran. To our surprise, the grandson told us not to go to the veteran’s (his uncle’s) room because he was “a little crazy.”   But after our showing how much money and energy the family would save, the uncle finally said: “give my room my light bulb!”  Compared to the first family, this one seemed happily surprised about how much money they would save.  But anyway, saving money is saving energy.  We all felt that it was very significant work that not only helped a certain number of people but the whole city, even the whole world. We felt we did a good job.

We went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch, which was quick and tasty. Then we took a voyage to Tulane University, where we got a tour by one of Tulane sophomores.  He was very informative and knew a lot about the campus and the history.   On the tour we saw a model dorm as well as all of the school’s other state-of-the-art facilities.  After the tour we ventured to “the fly,” a park along the Mississippi River.  There we got an intense soccer match with friendly strangers.  Then we journeyed to an outdoor gazebo where we met the head of the school, Mr. Maher.

One way to find the culture and the soul of the city is to have their food.  In the park gazebo, we had six pounds of crawfish and jambalaya and other tasty southern foods. After dinner we went back to our hotel and met about what we were going to do the next couple of days: a museum, the French Quarter, and parades.   Though excited, we were all very sad thinking about leaving NOLA.


-          Olly Liu and Max Miller

Monday Photos

Tuesday Photos


Today we began our day with a slightly earlier departure, stopping at Morning Call, a quirky little coffee and donut shop, for breakfast. We all ordered beignets which are squares of fried dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar. We all then piled back into the van and headed to City Park to do some volunteer work. Caitlin, a woman who works for LSU’s agricultural department explained to us more about the effects of hurricane Katrina and what plants can live in salt water. She showed us different marsh grasses that can live with varying salt tolerances to be replanted in the eroding coast of Louisiana. Unfortunately, Catelyn and her colleagues’ panting work has been put on hold because of the oil spill. Her department is afraid that the plants may die if the oil gets to them, so the replanting has been indefinitely stalled until a verdict can be drawn. Mr. Maher, head of Berkshire School, met us there along with his friend Mr. Murphy, a professional golfer, and helped us with our work. We all pitched in at LSU’s agriculture center in city park and began de-weeding pots of grasses and planting new clippings of grasses to be planted for new pots. It felt like a morning of accomplishment and after two hours we had moved two entire groups of plants and planted even more seedlings. We all clambered back into the van to drive down toward the coast through the flood-devastated neighborhood of New Orleans Easy, passing endless amounts of abandoned office buildings, car dealerships, apartment complexes, malls, gas stations, and even a Six Flags. Caitlin then took us on a tour of Bayou Savage, which used to be a gorgeous forest of lush greens but has been diminished to a brown sea of dead trees because of the salt from the hurricane. The effects of hurricane Katrina continue to amaze us all, and the images of the forest as it was before are incredible. Then, we drove across the road to another marsh, this one with more water, and encountered a pick up truck submerged in water. This was a shock to us all; even Caitlin was surprised. We were on the lookout for alligators in the water but had no such luck.

Later, Caitlin took us to the place the new storm wall has been built, the freshwater diversion from the Mississippi River. The new wall was built so it could stop the water from flooding this area again, even in a “100 year storm,” and has the ability to close at the road to stop the flow of traffic. If you don’t get through, you’re locked on the other side!

We then continued on our journey back to the greenhouse at city park to drop off Caitlin. On the way we got stuck in traffic, and Mr. Clary told us we had a surprise for us. Ms. Loose-Brown and Mr. Clary said that we were going to be allowed to go to Magazine street, a popular street with great food, gelato, and shopping. Being excited for the event of the night we decided to bring out the famous King Cake of New Orleans. Mr. Clary passed out pieces and we all waited anxiously to see who would get the plastic baby that was hidden in the cake. Tradition says that the person who finds the baby in the cake has to buy the next cake for friends or family; this lucky person was Jacq Raynor.

After dropping off Caitlin at the greenhouse we thanked her for all that she had shown us during the day and headed back to the hotel. Arriving at the hotel we went back to our rooms and freshened up for the exciting night ahead. We were all at the van by 5:00 and got to Magazine Street by 5:30. Some of the girls headed up the street and others headed down to look at stores and see what the dining options were for later. Kelley and I went to Byblos, a Greek restaurant right on the strip of stores. Others got to try the crawfish, a specialty of Louisiana.

We headed back to the hotel after a long night day of working and discussed what we would be doing for tomorrow and how much fun today had been. Today was a great day out in the sun and we can’t wait for what tomorrow will bring!

-Kelley Hartmann and Lacey Burns


LSU AgCenter Wetland Plant Project

Located in the Pelican greenhouses of City Park, the LSU AgCenter wetland plant project seeks to plant and nurture a variety of marsh grasses to help reinforce and protect the coastlines of Louisiana.  Site of our volunteer work on Tuesday morning.


As Mr. Clary said earlier today, there really is no better way to see
New Orleans. We began the seemingly overcast day with some time to
kill, allowing us to take a driving tour through many of the city’s
most famous streets and sections such as Magazine St. and Uptown. We
briefly got glimpses of Loyola and Tulane, although the beautiful old
southern architecture and the overhanging Live Oak trees were plenty
distracting. We then stopped at a quaint breakfast place that was
unanimously deemed the best breakfast we have had in months. The group
indulged in the Mardi Gras Waffle Special, Costa Rican Breakfast, or
some simple, yet still delicious breakfast burritos. After we all had
to be rolled back into the van, we headed down to the Global Green

While visiting the Global Green office, we were educated about the
initiatives the organization is taking to rebuild green and safe
housing after the destruction of Katrina. The organization has done
immense amounts of research on the most energy-efficient ways to rebuild and
is making incredible amounts of progress throughout New Orleans. Their
Build It Back Green program is enabling the city of New Orleans to
upgrade its houses and buildings to more energy-efficient places to conserve not only the environment but also money. Build It Back Green improves the quality of life for people who cannot afford to upgrade their houses by educating them and installing technology
for free.

After collecting our free Global Green ponchos, we picked up the
director of Global Green, Beth Galante, and headed down to the
infamous 9th Ward to see the Holy Cross project. Beth was an
incredible source to hear from. While on our way to the Holy Cross
projects, we learned about the effect of Global Warming on the amount
and intensity of the hurricanes that have been increasing every year.
We also learned that every forty-five minutes, a FOOTBALL FIELD-size piece of land
disappears from the coastline. While driving through the 9th ward, I
couldn’t help but imagine the news images projected across America of
the very location we were driving through almost completely submerged
under water. The vast amount of houses still abandoned was a loud
reminder of the devastating return rate of only 30% of the previous
homeowners of the 9th ward. We reached the Holy Cross Project, Global
Green’s completely green houses built in the 9th ward post-Katrina
and were immediately asked to remove our shoes. Apparently one of the
best things you can do to keep your house protected is to take off
your shoes before entering. We took a tour of the houses and were
shown the completely green rugs, paint, toilets, re-used wood flooring
and solar panels. The houses of the Holy Cross project are 70% more
energy efficient than the average house. They are so energy efficient
that at the end of the month, there isn’t even an electricity bill.
Beth explained the future plans to build a community center and even
an apartment building, if the state ever came through. The group then
walked up to the strongest levee of New Orleans that did not break
during Katrina. We continued on to the marsh land, Bayou Bienvenue, that had been
completely fresh water with bountiful trees and animal life, but after
a shipping canal had been opened into it and salt water poured in, it
completely died. The fresh water marsh was a natural barrier for
storms like Katrina, yet with the salt water addition, the marsh was
destroyed. Scientists had predicted the catastrophe of Katrina, yet no
one took any action because, according to Beth, the Army Corps did not want to admit their
mistake creating the canal. The modern picture was a completely dead
swamp, but Global Green is working on restoring the fresh water to the

We then moved on to a location where the levees broke and drove by the
Habitat for Humanity houses and Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” houses.
After saying goodbye to Beth, we needed to make a quick stop for some
po’ boys. Annie and I ventured and tried the alligator sausage that
was surprisingly delicious. After, we drove to the 17th Street Canal
Floodwall and met president and founder of, Sandy
Rosenthal. Sandy expressed her opinions about the inefficiency of the
government with keeping up the levees and the incompetence of the Army
Corps who built them. She explained that the catastrophe of Katrina
did not necessarily have to do with the intensity of the storm, but
the fact that the levees broke, coining Hurricane Katrina as a, “man-
made disaster.” Sandy explained that she could not stand by and watch
as people did nothing and got involved in order to help her city. The
most inspiring part of meeting with Sandy Rosenthal was witnessing her
passion for her city and the work she has put in for six years in
order to help it heal.

After meeting with Sandy, we headed to City Park and hung around
soaking up some Vitamin D that was in serious demand for our group who
hasn’t felt the sun in months. For dinner, we ate sushi and later Mr.
Clary made the fatal mistake of feeding us ice cream. After everyone’s
sugar high dropped, we all returned to our rooms for some essential
rest, anticipating what the next day in New Orleans would bring.

-Chloe Lerman

Founded by local citizens in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, seeks to educate the public about why the levees failed and advocates for better government stewardship of the water-management and protection systems throughout the Gulf Coast.  On Monday, we tour with founder and president Sandy Rosenthal at the site of the 17th st. canal breach.

New Orleans Botanical Gardens

Where we will spend the late afternoon Monday, observing the rich variety of flora that thrive in this sub-tropical climate.  On Tuesday, we will return to the Botanical Gardens in order to pick up march grasses in advance of our volunteer work in the wetlands.