Lessons Learned in the Bayou

In November, VALOR Class V traveled to Louisiana: Cajun Country, Birthplace of Jazz, the Bayou, Who Dat Nation! I had traveled to Louisiana before, primarily visiting New Orleans for various Farm Bureau trips but had never ventured outside of the French Quarter, and certainly never into the Bayou. I was excited to be traveling, looking forward to seeing a new part of the country, nervous about the cuisine (I DON’T eat spicy foods, despite Ryan’s attempts otherwise), and a little bit afraid of what I might encounter (my son told me before I left to watch out for the alligators and not to step in water because the “Moccasins” might get me!). After a week of farm visits, tours, amazing food, conversation and meeting many new, intriguing and fascinating individuals, I can honestly say that I learned and experienced more than I can even begin to share, but here are some highlights.

Shrimp Boil
Tobasco Sauces at Avery Island, LA

1 – Never underestimate the power of your voice. We visited a sugar cane farm owned and operated by Ricky Gonsoulin. Ricky not only farms full time, but he is an active member of his local Farm Bureau, he is a member of Louisiana Farm Bureau Board of Directors, as well as serving as Mayor Pro-Tem of New Iberia. He talked about his advocacy in the state legislature as well as times that he has gone to Congress and advocated at the federal level. Ricky iterated the importance of telling your story, representing your profession and advocating for not only yourself but for your counterparts, regardless of commodity. A unified voice is a strong voice. @rickygonsoulin

2 – A sheltered tree will not grow. Louisiana has many managed wooded lands. Unfortunately, Hurricane Ida destroyed many of these acres. However, we were still able to visit one of these managed plots with one of the state foresters and discuss the importance of forest management. Randy talked about how a sheltered tree will not grow. Even within the destruction from Ida, you could see variation in the size of the tree remnants. In areas where trees had not been properly thinned, there were trees that had had grown strong with wide bases and you could imagine their expansive canopy and those below them had thin trunks, not near the foundation of their counterparts. People, like trees, need room to grow. Individuals that are not given room to spread their wings, cultivate their ideas and explore their interests will not truly flourish in their environments.

Notice the small tree bases visible now that would have been hidden under the large trees overshadowing them in the background.

Notice the small stumps overshadowed by the larger trees in the background.

3 – Challenges overcome are lessons learned. There are some things you can only learn in a storm. The Pointe-Au-Chien Indian Tribe suffered great losses during Hurricane Ida, taking a direct hit from the eye of the storm. Despite their losses, Donald Dardar, Elder of the Tribe talked about the lessons that they learned from the impact of the storm. He noted that when they built their tribal center, they used screws to attach the walls and roof rather than traditional nails. He noted that the tribal center fared better than the houses within the geographic area. He felt that the screws held up better to the vibration generated from the high wind shear than nails which allowed the structure to stand. Leaders routinely face challenges. It is easy to look at the bad outcomes or the losses, but true leaders can look at lessons that can be learned, moving past a challenge to make themselves or their organizations stronger. http://www.pactribe.com

The destruction and loss due to Hurricane Ida was gut wrenching to see in person.

4 – Where you are planted matters. One of the last visits that we made was to Liuzza Produce Farm. They produce a variety of fruits and vegetables, but we talked a while about their Strawberry production. While I have been to many berry farms, I never realized that the soil that the berries are planted in can affect the sweetness and taste of the berries. Louisiana has diverse geographical climates and soils. Corn and cotton are best grown in the northern part of the state, sugar is best grown in the southern part of the state and the sweetest berries come from the soils on Liuzza Produce Farm! What we put into ourselves matter and affects the end result. We should always have goals in mind and structure ourselves with those goals in mind so that way we are always growing in a positive direction. http://www.liuzzaproducefarm.com

Berries in the ground, getting their nourishment from the rich earth.
Some of the sweetest berries I have ever had!

VALOR Class V had an amazing time in Louisiana. The conversations held and lessons learned will not soon be forgotten. I admit that I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried some new cuisine (not the Scoprion Tabasco though!) and I developed a new appreciation for the importance of faith and family. Sometimes the greatest storms in life will teach you the greatest lessons. Sometimes a field of broken trees can make you realize the importance of managing aspects of your life and put into perspective what is important. And sometimes, standing in a field, talking with someone that you are not really sure you are understanding all that they are saying to you, reminds you of the importance of your voice and how you as an individual can make an impact.

With that being said, “Voici le future”!

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