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Native Plant Advocate of the Month: Dr. Brandon Ballengee

Dr. Brandon Ballengee is an Artist and Biologist living in the country near Cecilia with his wife Aurore, a Sustainable food Educator and their children Lily and Victor. Brandon's art has been exhibited internationally and locally at Lafayette's Acadiana Center for the Arts. Brandon was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2021 after completing a post-doctorate at LSU studying the impacts of the 2010 oil spill on fish species in the Gulf of Mexico. He is now an adjunct faculty member at Tulane. Atelier de la Nature (French for Nature's Workshop), is a 25-acre nature reserve and outdoor education center located in the heart of Louisiana's Cajun country. The Atelier aims to inspire people to steward the nature in their own backyards and learn how, collectively, we can protect these natural gifts for future generations. Started in 2017, the Atelier de la Nature's programs use active learning methods that combine art with science and nature-based education as a means to inspire and do conservation. Since its start, Atelier de la Nature has held numerous festivals and programs, such as the Halloween Art and Nature Festival in the Fall, Prairie Planting Day, Fete de la Nature/Earth Day Festival in the Spring, several art and nature programs with local area schools, and more. ANPP provides educational tables at these events including native species for planting and for giveaways. Within the nature reserve, restorations have begun to re-establish a Cajun prairie, regrow a forest with the planting of over a thousand regionally native trees, and create a wetland habitat. The Ballengees are working on making the Atelier land a biological field station, exploring carbon sequestering projects and planning to make family friendly nature trails. A new collaborative art exhibit is getting underway soon. The idea is to work with Baptisia (indigo) to "re-learn" lost knowledge through a series of programs. ANPP is growing Baptisia alba and B. sphaerocarpa (white and yellow indigo) plants from local seed for a prairie planting on Atelier land on March 5. ANPP's Dr. Phyllis Griffard will give a talk on the Cajun prairie. On Saturday August 19 and Sunday August 20, the Atelier will host a series of Indigo programs "Returning the lost Blue" where participants will make drawings, experiment with phytochemicals and much more. Separately, in addition to the planting and public programs, a molecular biologist will try to re-develop a lost histological staining technique that used Baptisia compounds from DNA sampled from the plants. A Native American artist will experiment with false indigo to dye the garments she makes using the techniques used by her ancestors. These results will be presented in an exhibit at the Mingei Museum in San Diego, California in 2024. Thank you Brandon for you dedication to nature-based art and education!

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