Urban Soil Science

Hi, Soil Enthusiasts!

My name is Liz Miernicki and I am a first year masters student in the Urban Agriculture Lab of the University of Illinois’ Crop Science Department. My interests lie in urban soil management and improving food security, which has been the case since I took my very first soil science course. My soil courses briefly covered urban soil science so I was determined to gain more information on the fast growing field. For this week’s blog post, I will briefly described my research and how my findings can contribute to the field of urban agriculture.

My longest running experiment involves urban soil management systems where my advisor and I want to determine the long-term effects of these systems on soil properties, crop yields, and ecosystems services such as soil nutrient cycling and resistance to pests. Environmental contamination is the primary challenge urban food production faces. To combat this, alternative soil management systems are desired, so I am using raised beds and compare them to ground plots. Working with different soil mixtures will allow us to provide communities with the most cost-effective way of producing food.

My second field study, which starts in the spring of 2016, is lead uptake in horticultural crops such as kale or peppers. I will be working with Prosperity Gardens, a non-profit organization who owns a highly contaminated lot located in northern Champaign. With my data, I hope to show that there are small concentrations of lead in the edible parts of crops, especially in leafy crops. Based on my literature review so far, the highest concentrations of lead occur in the roots of crops. Therefore, you would stray away from root crops such as carrots if you are growing on highly contaminated land. In a way, both of these experiments go hand in hand and I hope that my findings can contribute to the demand of urban agriculture.

Urban agriculture no doubt plays a crucial role in improving food security in fast growing cities. While some people enjoy urban agriculture for its trendiness, others rely on it to meet their basic needs. Take some time to find out more about urban farming by volunteering at local farms here in Champaign and Urbana! Also, check out the different farmers’ markets and stands around the area! There are some delicious goodies for sale at this time of year. Urbana’s market is every Saturday from 7am-noon and Champaign’s is every Tuesday from 4-7pm. Also, the Sustainable Student Farm on campus has a farm stand every Thursday from 11am-5pm on the quad. Try to make it out to one of these events before the season ends! Support local farmers!

Cilantro from my summer plots!
Cilantro from my summer plots!
My raised beds and direct soil plots from this field season.
My raised beds and direct soil plots from this field season.

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