Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wittenberg Explores Soil Sustainability

For the last 2 weeks, my Geology of the Critical Zone class piloted the first NSF funded agricultural sustainability geoscience curriculum as a part  of InTeGrate. InTeGrate strives to create and widely disseminate interdisciplinary, student-centered (non-lecture) curriculum on sustainability.  Two other undergraduate cohorts at Virginia Tech (Dr. Hannah Scherer) and Santa Rosa Junior College (Martha Murphy) have and will pilot the same curriculum.  Our pilot goals are to identify improvements that will make our modules fit well with many institutional types and broadly illustrate the need for soil sustainability.  This week, after exploring soil properties that promote infiltration and reduce erosion,  we took a break and headed to Yellow Springs to visit the Antioch Organic Farm.  My class found that the tilled plot did not form surface aggregates (clumps) while the no-till plot did.  Only the water poured through the no-till soil remained clear and free of eroded soil.  This is not surprising. Globally, tillage contributes to erosion at rates that far exceed the production of soil and this disrupts the natural fertility of soil and ability to sustain our food and fiber resources. No till practices are one way to greatly reduce erosion rates. We are grateful to Marianthe Bickett, our gracious student tour guide at the Antioch Farm.  She showed us permaculture plots, where rotation of crops and animals is practiced, to reduce pests, improve nutrient management.  Food grown in the farm is part of the Antioch student's meal plan.  Thanks Marianthe!

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