In April of 2018, I received an Honors and Scholars Enrichment Grant to help fund a research project meant to evaluate sustainable farming practices. This grant, along with funding from STEP, transformed my summer and my outlook on Sustainability. This project turned out to take longer than I thought, and is still ongoing. Hopefully this will be the first of a few updates showing how my research will impact OSU and the Columbus Community.
The main goal of this project was to evaluate the efficacy of two different farming practices meant to help local, sustainable farmers. Before I was able to begin research, I decided to spend some time learning about the Student Farm. Located on Waterman Farm, I had a great time getting to know the team of the Student farm this summer. With goals in enriching students educations and forging community connections, this was a great place to work. I helped to plant, take care of, and harvest several different varieties of vegetables throughout the summer. These vegetables were then used by farm workers and community members as part of the farm CSA (community supported agriculture). I feel like being able to connect with the local community and help out the student farm connected to the H&S goal of service engagement. The ultimate goal of my research is to help mitigate food deserts and bring nutrient rich food to communities, so this social issue was the guiding light for me while I learned more about sustainable farming.
To the left is picture of some of our vegetables that are getting just big enough to be harvested! To the right a picture of a what was included in a typical week’s bag for CSA (community supported agriculture) members.
One practice I wanted to evaluate was the efficacy of the use of a caterpillar tunnel. These are season-extension tunnels names because they are long arches that will resemble a caterpillar when finished and covered in plastic. I spend a lot of the summer working in the workshop on the pre-fab portion of the project. I had to purchase and work with more than forty steel pipes, which involved cutting them, drilling in holes, and bending some of the ends. After that, work on the farm involved laying down weed fabric, laying down track, and assembling the arches. As you can see, we have recently started assembly. It took awhile to get approval from Waterman Farm and OSU FOD, as they were hesitant that this structure might negatively impact the farm if abandoned. However, we finally got approval, and it is amazing to see how far we’ve come.
With my goal of sustainability, I did some research as to why these tunnels are sustainable. The idea is that these tunnels will help local farms extend their growing season into the winter. That way, farmers will be more successful and will be able to provide nutrient rich food to their local community. This will help the community and will reduce transportation waste and emissions. These tunnels cost about $2,500, and so I want to examine whether the effectiveness of extending the season makes them worth the cost.
To the left is the workshop where I worked on the pre-fabrication of the parts before construction could even start. The picture to the left is our progress as of 9/23/2018. With construction recently started, we are excited to get this built!
The second project I wanted to investigate was use of tarps as weed suppressors. This one has a more direct environmental connection. Herbicides, pesticides, and even fertilizers used in ag will often run off into water streams. These chemicals can be harmful to water habitats, and even the nutrients from fertilizers can have negative effects. The harmful algal blooms we hear of from Lake Erie and the Red Tide are actually caused from nutrient overloading from agricultural runoff. Therefore, increasing the integrity of the soil and decreasing the need for these chemical additives directly benefits water ecosystems.
The idea for using tarps is that they can be put on areas with weeds for a few days, up to a week. These tarps will trap in heat, killing the weed seeds underneath. Then, when it is time to plant, we remove the tarps and prep the beds through broadforking. This will till the land without disturbing any weed seeds that may have survived. Then we can plant our desired crops. The hope is that the weeds will have either died or be too deeply buried to be harmful to the plants. This will reduce the need for herbicides, and this helps to maintain the integrity of the soil (which reduces soil erosion) by using a specific form of tilling. I investigated whether black tarps or clear tarps were more effective in this process. We quickly found that black tarps worked best, presumably because they are able to trap heat better. Clear tarps were sometimes effective, but only if very thoroughly sealed. We decided not to do a formal research study based off these results, as the difference in effectiveness was so apparent. Either way, it is useful to know what to recommend to local farmers who want advice on how to improve this practice.
This picture shows an area where clear and black tarps were used for weed suppression.
Thanks for reading! Those are the results we have from this summer, and I look forward to telling you what we are able to achieve in Autumn of 2018.